Survey: Majority of Americans Would Not Turn to the Government for Help in a Major Catastrophe

Only 14% say a government agency would be the most help in a catastrophe. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Only 14% say a government agency would be the most help in a catastrophe.
(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

The Ten Words You Don’t Want to Hear: “I’m from the Federal Government and I’m Here to Help”

In the aftermath of the federal shutdown and congressional fight over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, a survey finds that a majority of Americans would turn to family and friends rather than the government for help if a major catastrophe struck.

Nearly nine in 10 said it is likely the world will experience a major catastrophe, and about a third expect it will occur in “less than a year from now,” according to the online survey of more than 1,100 Americans 18 and older, conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 2 by the National Geographic Channel and Kelton Research.

In case of such an emergency, 57% said they would prefer to turn to family, friends or neighbors for help. Just 14% said FEMA or another government agency would be “the most help.”

Eric Uslaner, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland-College Park, said the nation is experiencing the lowest level of public trust in government it has seen. “This has been the least productive Congress on record in terms of number of laws passed,” he said.

Also contributing to the level of distrust, Uslaner said, is that the Democrats and Republicans are “more concerned with attacking each other than fixing each others’ problems.” In the past, sitting down and negotiating was more common in politics, he noted.

According to a USA TODAY/Princeton Survey Research Poll released this week, nearly half of respondents say Congress would work better if nearly all members were replaced next year.

Joseph Nye, a professor and former dean at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said public opinion polls show public trust in government moves up and down and very dramatically.

“It’s not one straight line,” he said. “Right now, it’s at a low spot, and it’s not that it was high and slid. It’s been a roller coaster.”

Though unfamiliar with the National Geographic survey’s specifics, Nye said some of the findings struck him as an “exaggeration.”

“If you have a cyber-attack, you are going to have cooperation from both the public and private sector,” Nye said. “And the government is ahead in some parts of the private sector and [vice versa].”

According to the survey, 77% say the USA will experience a “catastrophic cyber-attack” during their lifetime, and more than half (55%) say the United States is not fit to deal with a “potentially disastrous cyber-attack.”

The survey was released before National Geographic’s premiere of American Blackout on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The movie depicts chaos spreading across the USA during a 10-day national power failure caused by a cyber-attack that shuts down the U.S. electric grid.


One Comment on “Survey: Majority of Americans Would Not Turn to the Government for Help in a Major Catastrophe”

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