CBS Poll: Bush Has The Edge

GENERIC John Kerry and George Bush over U.S. flag AP / CBS

Americans are eager to see President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger John Kerry finally debate head-to-head, and one in four voters says their decision could hinge on what they see next Thursday. For those voters, the debates could be decisive: many of them are uneasy about the President's performance and the direction of the country, but also have reservations about John Kerry.

The nationwide vote for President remains largely as it was last week: President Bush holds an eight-point lead over John Kerry in this poll. Last week, he was up by nine points. Among likely voters -- those deemed the most probable to turn out in November -- the President holds a similar 51 percent to 42 percent lead.

PRESIDENTIAL HORSERACE
(Registered Voters)

Bush-Cheney
Now
49%
Last week
50%

Kerry-Edwards
Now
41%
Last week
41%

Nader-Camejo
Now
2%
Last week
3%


Without Ralph Nader offered as a choice, the race between Bush and Kerry is virtually the same among registered voters: the President has a 49 percent to 41 percent edge nationwide. In the CBS News battleground states, however, this election is still close.

THE NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN
Most voters believe this campaign has so far been marred by unfair, negative attacks. While both sides share blame, Senator John Kerry is more often seen as the one doing that attacking.

28 percent say both candidates are guilty of mudslinging. But almost as many think that John Kerry is the only candidate leveling unfair attacks in this race -- 27 percent say only he has done so, not Bush -- while 19 percent say only Bush has.

HAVE THERE BEEN UNFAIR ATTACKS MADE BY…?
(Registered voters)

Both candidates
28%
Only John Kerry
27%
Only George W. Bush
19%
Neither candidate
19%

In evaluating each campaign separately, more voters say Kerry has been on the attack, instead of explaining what he would do if elected: 61 percent say he has been spending most of his time assailing Bush. 44 percent say Bush has been devoting most of his efforts to attacking Kerry, but more -- 48 percent -- say the President has been mostly explaining his own agenda.

JOHN KERRY HAS SPENT MOST OF HIS TIME…
(Registered voters)

Attacking Bush
61%
Explaining what he would do
33%

GEORGE W. BUSH AS SPENT MOST OF HIS TIME…
(Registered voters)

Attacking Kerry
44%
Explaining what he would do
48%

THE PRESIDENTIAL HORSERACE
Kerry, who once held a lead among women voters, now finds himself about even with Bush among them -- but that is an improvement for the Senator from last week, when Bush held a seven-point lead. The President, meanwhile, continues to improve his support among men; he now has an 18-point edge among them. In the past week Kerry has slipped a bit within his own party: 14 percent of Democrats today are backing President Bush. Bush has now opened up a sizable lead among older voters.

PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST AMONG SELECTED GROUPS
(Registered voters)

Women
Kerry Today
46%
Kerry Last Week
42%

Bush Today
45%
Bush Last Week
49%

Men
Kerry Today
36%
Kerry Last Week
39%

Bush Today
54%
Bush Last Week
50%

65 And Over
Kerry Today
34%
Kerry Last Week
46%

Bush Today
54%
Bush Last Week
45%

Democrats
Kerry Today
76%
Kerry Last Week
83%

Bush Today
14%
Bush Last Week
11%

Republicans
Kerry Today
8%
Kerry Last Week
7%

Bush Today
89%
Bush Last Week
87%

Independents
Kerry Today
39%
Kerry Last Week
37%

Bush Today
45%
Bush Last Week
45%

John Kerry has still not managed to build personal enthusiasm for his candidacy. 42 percent of his supporters say they are with Kerry because they strongly favor him -- up slightly from last week -- while 27 percent have reservations about him. More then one out of four are voting for Kerry mainly because they dislike George W. Bush. Right after the Democratic convention, more than half of Kerry's voters called themselves strong supporters.

KERRY'S SUPPORT
(Registered voters supporting Kerry)

Strongly favor
Now
42%
Last week
40%
7/2004
19%

Like with reservations
Now
27%
Last week
27%
7/2004
19%

Dislike other candidates
Now
29%
Last week
31%
7/2004
25%

Enthusiasm for Bush among his supporters is far higher at 68 percent.

BUSH'S SUPPORT
(Registered voters supporting Bush)

Strongly favor
Now
68%
Last week
63%
7/2004
70%

Like with reservations
Now
20%
Last week
27%
7/2004
24%

Dislike other candidates
Now
10%
Last week
9%
7/2004
6%

In the debates, the candidates will be vying for just a small percent of the electorate. About one in five are uncommitted -- that is, are undecided or could still change their minds about whom to support.

As in 2000, nearly nine in ten voters want to see the candidates go head-to-head in the debates, and one in four voters say those debates will matter to them.

WILL THE DEBATES MATTER IN YOUR VOTE?
(Registered voters)

Yes
Now
27%
2000
24%

No
Now
70%
2000
71%

Voters who say that they will weigh the debates heavily in their vote decision give the President much lower approval marks than do voters overall, and far fewer of them than other voters - only 40% - say Iraq was the right thing to do. More currently back Kerry than Bush – but most of those backers do not call themselves strong supporters of the Senator.

VOTERS WHO WILL DECIDE BASED ON DEBATES ARE:

Voting Kerry today
Debate deciders
49%
All voters
41%

Voting Bush today
Debate deciders
34%
All deciders
49%

Approve of Bush job performance
Debate deciders
37%
All voters
50%

Think Iraq was right thing to do
Debate deciders
40%
All voters
52%

Think country is on right track
Debate deciders
31%
All voters
43%

THE SITUATION IN IRAQ AND THE CAMPAIGN
The first debate's topic will be foreign policy and homeland security, so the war in Iraq figures to be front and center in it. For now, a majority of voters continue to express confidence that President Bush will make the right decisions about the ongoing conflict in Iraq. 61 percent have confidence, and 39 percent do not. These views have changed little since April.

WILL BUSH MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS ABOUT IRAQ?
(Registered Voters)

A lot/some confidence
Now
61%
8/2004
56%

Not much/no confidence
Now
39%
8/2004
43%

President Bush spoke before the United Nations on the issue of Iraq when this poll was being conducted, but results on this question show no significant differences in surveys conducted before and after the Tuesday speech at the U.N.

Kerry, meanwhile, trails on this question. Voters are now about evenly divided over whether they have confidence in Kerry's ability to make the right decisions about Iraq. Just over half now have confidence, down 12 points since August. Before the Republican National Convention, Kerry led Bush on this question by 63 percent to 56 percent.

WILL KERRY MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS ABOUT IRAQ?
(Registered Voters)

A lot/some confidence
Now
51%
8/2004
63%

Not much/no confidence
Now
48%
8/2004
34%

Kerry sees much of his loss on this evaluation since August among male voters (a 16 point drop), Independents (18 points), and moderates (9 points).

So far, the public is unconvinced that either the Bush Administration or Kerry has developed a clear plan for "rebuilding" Iraq. 53 percent of the public says the Bush Administration has not developed a clear plan for it, and 73 percent say this about Kerry.

42 percent say things are going well for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq, down four points from last week. 56 percent now say things in Iraq are going badly.

HOW ARE THINGS IN IRAQ GOING FOR U.S.?

Well
Now
42%
Last week
46%
5/2004
37%
8/2003
51%

Badly
Now
56%
Last week
51%
5/2004
60%
8/2003
47%

51 percent today think the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, down only slightly from a week ago. 44 percent say the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq, up five points from last week.

U.S. ACTION AGAINST IRAQ:

Right thing
Now
51%
Last week
54%
3/2004
58%

Should have stayed out
Now
44%
Last week
39%
3/2004
37%

This poll was conducted after U.S. officials confirmed the beheading of American hostage Eugene Armstrong by Iraqi militants. A second American hostage, Jack Hensley, was also killed by his Iraqi kidnappers during the interviewing period.

GEORGE W. BUSH – STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Bush's rating on his handling of the situation in Iraq remains low. Half the public disapproves of Bush's handling of Iraq, while 45 percent approve.

Also, the President's overall approval rating has dipped back below 50 percent mark. Now, 48 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling his job as President, while 44 percent disapprove.

BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS

Overall
Now
48%
Last week
50%
9/2004
50%
8/2004
46%

Handling terrorism
Now
56%
Last week
59%
9/2004
62%
8/2004
53%

Handling economy
Now
43%
Last week
43%
9/2004
44%
8/2004
37%

Handling Iraq
Now
45%
Last week
46%
9/2004
45%
8/2004
40%

Bush's handling of the economy remains his lowest rating; just 43 percent approve, while 51 percent disapprove. More Americans have disapproved than approved on this measure since January.

Among voters, 45 percent say the policies of the Bush administration have decreased the number of jobs in the U.S. 22 percent say the Administration's policies have increased the number of jobs.

POLICIES OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAVE …
(Registered voters)

Increased jobs in U.S.
22%
Decreased jobs in U.S.
45%
No effect
21%

TERRORISM AND THE CAMPAIGN
The President's highest evaluation remains his handling of the campaign against terrorism. 56 percent of Americans (and 57 percent of voters) now approve of the way he is handling the war on terror. While this number is down 6 points from two weeks ago, it is still slightly higher than it was in CBS News Polls conducted during the summer.

Most voters are also convinced that the policies of the Bush administration have made the U.S. safer from terrorism. 59 percent say this, and 23 percent say their policies have made the U.S. less safe.

Voters are still confident Bush will make the right decisions when it comes to protecting the country from terrorism. 74 percent of voters have at least some confidence in Bush's decisions when it comes to protecting the country (including 50 percent who have a lot of confidence in him). Only a quarter have little or no confidence in Bush on this measure.

CONFIDENCE IN BUSH ON PROTECTING U.S. FROM TERRORISM
(Registered Voters)

A lot
Now
50%
Last week
50%
9/6-8/2004
47%
8/2004
43%

Some
Now
24%
Last week
26%
9/6-8/2004
26%
8/2004
26%

Not much/none
Now
25%
Last week
24%
9/6-8/2004
26%
8/2004
30%

60 percent of voters are confident that Kerry would make the right decisions when it comes to protecting the U.S., but only 25 percent express a lot of confidence, virtually unchanged from last week and down a bit since August.

CONFIDENCE IN KERRY ON PROTECTING U.S. FROM TERRORISM
(Registered Voters)

A lot
Now
25%
Last week
26%
8/2004
32%

Some
Now
35%
Last week
37%
8/2004
39%

Not much/none
Now
38%
Last week
35%
8/2004
26%

KERRY VS. BUSH
Even though the public may be mixed about the way Bush is handling two key campaign issues -- Iraq and the economy -- he has so far been able to convince voters he is a strong leader and that he has a clear plan for what he wants to accomplish if elected to a second term. They are much less sure about Kerry in this regard.

54 percent of voters think Bush has laid out a clear plan for what he would like to accomplish in the next four years if he is re-elected. 42 percent think he has not made his plans clear.


IS IT CLEAR WHAT BUSH WANTS TO ACCOMPLISH AS PRESIDENT?
(Registered Voters)

Yes
Now
54%
Last week
50%
9/6-8/2004
54%

No
Now
42%
Last week
44%
9/6-8/2004
40%

Bush continues to be viewed as a strong leader -- 61 percent of voters now say he is. Voters' views on this measure have changed little since July.

DOES BUSH HAVE STRONG QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP?
(Registered Voters)

Yes
Now
61%
Last week
63%
8/2004
59%
7/2004
58%

No
Now
37%
Last week
35%
8/2004
39%
7/2004
38%

Only 37 percent of voters think Kerry has made it clear what he wants to accomplish as president; nearly six in ten say he has not. Even those paying a lot of attention to the presidential campaign say Kerry has not made clear what he wants to accomplish if he's elected president this fall.

IS IT CLEAR WHAT KERRY WANTS TO ACCOMPLISH AS PRESIDENT?
(Registered Voters)

Yes
Now
37%
Last week
38%
9/6-8/2004
40%

No
Now
57%
Last week
57%
9/6-8/2004
55%

Just 30 percent think Kerry says what he really believes, while two-thirds think he says what he thinks people want to hear. This has been the case for Kerry throughout the presidential campaign.

A growing problem for Kerry is that fewer voters now view him as a strong leader than at any time during the campaign. While 48 percent of voters think he possesses strong qualities of leadership, almost as many -- 45 percent -- think he does not. The number who says Kerry is a strong leader has been declining since the Republican convention.

DOES KERRY HAVE STRONG QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP?
(Registered Voters)

Yes
Now
48%
Last week
50%
8/2004
60%
3/2004
61%

No
Now
45%
Last week
42%
8/2004
32%
3/2004
27%

Voters are still split on whether Bush shares their priorities for the country or not. Now, 48 percent of voters say Bush shares their priorities, but 50 percent think he does not. These numbers are similar to those in recent CBS News Polls. But voters are even more dubious about Kerry on this. 50 percent of voters say Kerry does not share their priorities; only 38 percent think he does.

DO THE CANDIDATES SHARE YOUR PRIORITIES?
(Registered voters)

Yes
Kerry
38%
Bush
48%

No
Kerry
50%
Bush
50%

On a broader assessment, more voters have an overall favorable opinion of Bush than an unfavorable one, something that has been the case since the Republican convention. Today, 46 percent of voters hold a favorable view of Bush, while 38 percent view him unfavorably.

OVERALL OPINION OF BUSH
(Registered Voters)

Favorable
Now
46%
Last week
47%
Sept. 6-8
47%

Unfavorable
Now
38%
Last week
38%
Sept. 6-8
39%

Undecided/Haven't heard
Now
15%
Last week
15%
Sept. 6-8
13%

Six in 10 also think of Bush as someone they would like personally.

Voters' overall opinions of Kerry remain negative. 44 percent of voters now view him unfavorably -- the highest number yet. 32 percent hold a favorable view.

OVERALL OPINION OF JOHN KERRY
(Registered Voters)

Favorable
Now
32%
Last week
31%
Sept. 6-8
32%

Unfavorable
Now
44%
Last week
42%
Sept. 6-8
41%

Undecided/haven't heard
Now
24%
Last week
27%
Sept. 6-8
26%

Still, half of voters admit Kerry is someone they would like personally. 40 percent say they would not like him.

CANDIDATE QUALITIES: KERRY VS. BUSH
(Registered Voters)

John Kerry
Like him personally
Now
49%
Last week
50%
Sept. 6-8
--

Strong qualities of leadership
Now
48%
Last week
50%
Sept. 6-8
51%

Shares your priorities
Now
38%
Last week
44%
Sept. 6-8
38%

Says what he believes
Now
30%
Last week
30%
Sept. 6-8
32%

George W. Bush
Like him personally
Now
59%
Last week
60%
Sept. 6-8
--

Strong qualities of leadership
Now
61%
Last week
63%
Sept. 6-8
64%

Shares your priorities
Now
48%
Last week
47%
Sept. 6-8
47%

Says what he believes
Now
55%
Last week
55%
Sept. 6-8
56%

SOCIAL SECURITY AND THE CAMPAIGN
More voters see Kerry as the candidate who will ensure that Social Security benefits are available for future generations. By 57 percent to 30 percent, voters think Kerry is likely to make sure Social Security will be there for them if he is elected president. By 49 percent to 42 percent, voters say Bush is not likely to do that if he is reelected.

WILL SOCIAL SECURITY BE THERE FOR YOU?
(Registered Voters)

Likely
If Kerry is elected
57%
If Bush is re-elected
42%

Not likely
If Kerry is elected
30%
If Bush is re-elected
49%

Seniors are the only age group who think Bush will make sure Social Security benefits are available to them. Just over half, 52 percent, of senior voters aged 65 and older think so. By 50 percent to 30 percent, senior voters also say this about Kerry. In this poll, senior voters give Bush a 20-point lead over Kerry.

Just under four in ten voters say the Bush Administration has made at least some progress in making sure that Social Security and Medicare are there for future generations; half say it has not made much progress or no progress at all. This has improved slightly since January. Two-thirds of Republicans say the Bush Administration has made progress in this area, but three quarters of Democrats and half of Independents disagree. 41 percent of voters aged 65 and older say the Bush Administration has made progress in this area, but 50 percent say it has not.

HAS BUSH ADMINISTRATION MADE PROGRESS ON SOCIAL SECURITY?
(Registered Voters)

A lot/some progress
Now
37%
1/2004
34%

Not much/no progress
Now
51%
1/2004
57%



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,083 adults interviewed by telephone September 20-22, 2004. There were 931 registered voters. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on all adults and all registered voters.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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