CBS Poll: Kerry And Bush ThisClose

GENERIC President Bush and John Kerry AP / CBS

The race for the presidency is now essentially tied, with a gap between the two major party candidates within this poll's margin of error. Voters are paying more attention to this campaign now than at this point four years ago, and their overall opinions about each candidate's strengths and weaknesses remain relatively stable.

Just after the Democratic convention, John Kerry led President George W. Bush by a small margin; the recent tightening of the race reflects a loss of support for Kerry among some of this election's most contested groups: Independents, veterans and Catholic voters.

If the presidential election were being held today, and Ralph Nader were on the ballot in most states, 46 percent of voters said they would vote for John Kerry and John Edwards, and 45 percent would support George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The Nader-Camejo ticket, which is having a difficult time making the ballot in many states, receives just 1 percent of the vote.

PRESIDENTIAL CHOICE
(Registered voters)

Now
Kerry-Edwards
46%
Bush-Cheney
45%
Nader-Camejo
1%

Post-Democratic convention
Kerry-Edwards
48%
Bush-Cheney
43%
Nader-Camejo
3%

Just after the Democratic convention Kerry had a five-point lead over Bush, 48 percent to 43 percent, with Nader receiving 3 percent.

When Ralph Nader is not included in the question, Kerry runs three points ahead of Bush, 47 percent to 44 percent. Those results also show Kerry in a somewhat weaker position against Bush than he was just after his convention, when he had a six-point lead over Bush in the two-candidate vote question.

PRESIDENTIAL CHOICE (WITHOUT NADER)
(Registered voters)

Now
Kerry-Edwards
47%
Bush-Cheney
44%

Post-Democratic convention
Kerry-Edwards
49%
Bush-Cheney
43%

As has been the case for months, nearly all voters who align themselves with either the Democratic or Republican Party will support their party's candidate. One group of voters being intently watched is Independents, and their support has been more fluid. In this poll, 44 percent of Independents would vote for Kerry, while 39 percent support Bush. In a CBS News Poll conducted just after the Democratic convention, Independent voters gave a much larger seventeen-point lead to Kerry.

PRESIDENTIAL CHOICE AMONG INDEPENDENTS
(Registered voters)

Now
Kerry-Edwards
44%
Bush-Cheney
39%
Nader-Camejo
4%

Post-Democratic convention
Kerry-Edwards
50%
Bush-Cheney
33%
Nader-Camejo
7%

The appearance of his fellow Vietnam veterans at the Democratic convention helped John Kerry's support among veterans, but the recent attacks on his Vietnam service may have moved veterans' support back toward George W. Bush now. Kerry is running well behind his opponent among veterans; now, 55 percent of veterans back Bush, and 37 percent back Kerry. A few weeks ago, both candidates were tied among veterans.

PRESIDENTIAL CHOICE AMONG VETERANS
(Registered voters)

Now
Kerry-Edwards
37%
Bush-Cheney
55%
Nader-Camejo

1%

Post-Democratic convention
Kerry-Edwards
46%
Bush-Cheney
46%
Nader-Camejo
1%

Another closely watched voting group is white Catholics, who share John Kerry's religion. This poll shows that white Catholics are closely divided, with Kerry's lead within the margin of error. Kerry receives 48 percent of their vote, while Bush receives 44 percent. Just after the convention, Kerry had a double-digit lead among this group.

PRESIDENTIAL CHOICE AMONG WHITE CATHOLICS
(Registered voters)

Now
Kerry-Edwards
48%
Bush-Cheney
44%
Nader-Camejo
1%

Post-Democratic convention
Kerry-Edwards
51%
Bush-Cheney
40%
Nader-Camejo
4%

Demographic groups who are lending their support to John Kerry include African American voters, women, and voters under age 30. Bush receives the support of men, whites, and those who say religion is extremely important to them.

VOTING FOR OR VOTING AGAINST?
John Kerry still has not generated enthusiasm among most of those who say they will vote for him. 44 percent of Kerry's voters are enthusiastically supporting him, but 37 percent are supporting him with reservations, and 16 percent support him because he is the party's nominee.

CANDIDATE SUPPORT:
(Registered voters)

Kerry voters
Enthusiastic
44%
With reservations
37%
Party nominee
16%

Bush voters
Enthusiastic
59%
With reservations
36%
Party nominee
3%

But this situation may not be unusual for a non-incumbent presidential candidate. Al Gore's and George W. Bush's supporters had similarly muted feelings about their candidates in August 2000. Then, 44 percent of Gore's voters were enthusiastic about him, 35 percent had reservations, and 20 percent were voting for him because he was the nominee. 46 percent of Bush's supporters were enthusiastic, 40 percent had reservations, and 11 percent supported Bush because he was the nominee.

The current incumbent does much better. Nearly 6 in 10 of Bush's voters say they are enthusiastic about him, 36 percent have reservations about him, and only 3 percent are supporting him because he is the Republican nominee.

Kerry's voters admit that their vote is as much a vote against Bush as it is for Kerry. 46 percent of Kerry's supporters say they are voting mainly against Bush, while 49 percent say they are mainly voting for John Kerry. In contrast, eight in ten of George Bush's supporters are voting for their candidate.

VOTE IS MAINLY…
(Registered voters)

Kerry voters
For candidate
49%
Against opponent
46%

Bush voters
For candidate
80%
Against opponent
15%

The enthusiastic Kerry voters are three times as likely to be voting for Kerry as they are against Bush.

Just under nine in ten of each candidate's supporters say they have made up their minds about whom to vote for, and this tight race continues to be fought among the small group of voters percent don't know who they would vote for, and another 14 percent currently support a candidate, but say their minds might still change.

Persuadable voters have a negative view of Bush, but they still don't know much about John Kerry. The President's approval ratings among this group are low; 43 percent approve of the job he is doing overall, 30 percent approve of how he is handling Iraq, and 27 percent approve of his handling of the economy. They like the way the president is handling terrorism, however; 57 percent approve of that. As for his adversary, six in ten have formed no opinion yet of John Kerry.


ATTENTION TO THE CAMPAIGN
Although it's only mid-August and many Americans are on vacation or otherwise enjoying the final weeks of summer, most voters are paying attention to the campaign. Now nearly nine in ten -- 89 percent -- are paying a lot or some attention, up from 85 percent after the Democratic convention. In fact, the number of voters now paying at least some attention to this campaign has surpassed the number that were paying attention in November of 2000, just before that election. In August 2000, about three in four voters were paying some attention to the campaign.

ATTENTION TO THE CAMPAIGN
(Registered voters)

A lot
48%
Some
41%
Not much/not at all
11%

But voter assessment of these campaigns is decidedly more negative than it was in 2000. At this point in 2000, a majority of voters viewed both Al Gore and George W. Bush as explaining what they would do as president, not attacking their opponent.

This year, the assessments of the campaign are more divided. 47 percent of voters say Kerry has been spending more time explaining what he would do as president than attacking Bush, while 42 percent say Kerry has been mainly attacking his opponent. As for Bush's campaign, 44 percent say Bush has been explaining what he would do over the next four years, while about the same number says he is mainly attacking Kerry.

CANDIDATES ARE SPENDING MORE TIME:
(Registered voters)

Explaining what they would do
Kerry
47%
Bush
44%

Attacking their opponent
Kerry
42%
Bush
43%

Those paying "a lot" of attention to the campaign are more likely to say Bush is attacking than to say Kerry is.

THE CANDIDATES AND THE ISSUES: IRAQ, TERRORISM, AND THE ECONOMY
There are two pressing issues in the 2004 campaign that voters want to hear about -- the state of the economy, and the state of the U.S. in Iraq and the world. In this poll, similar numbers choose each. At 24 percent, the economy and jobs is now the top issue voters most want to hear the presidential candidates discuss, followed by the war in Iraq, at 20 percent. 12 percent name health care, 6 percent mention foreign policy or defense in general, 5 percent name education and 5 percent mention terrorism.


ISSUE VOTERS MOST WANT TO HEAR THE CANDIDATES ADDRESS:
(Registered Voters)

Economy/jobs
24%
War in Iraq
20%
Health care
12%
Foreign policy/defense
6%
Education
5%
Terrorism
5%

Voters express some confidence that both Bush and Kerry have the ability to make the right decisions when it comes to Iraq and terrorism. But on the issues of the economy and health care, the Democratic challenger appears to have the edge.

63 percent of voters have some confidence that Kerry will make the right decisions about the ongoing conflict in Iraq, compared to 56 percent who say they have confidence in Bush. However, as has been the case in previous polls, slightly more voters say they have "a lot" of confidence in Bush.

CONFIDENCE IN MAKING RIGHT DECISIONS ON IRAQ
(Registered Voters)

John Kerry
A lot
26%
Some
37%
Not much/none
34%

George W. Bush
A lot
32%
Some
24%
Not much/none
43%

About 7 in 10 voters say they have at least some confidence that both Bush and Kerry will make the right decisions when it comes to protecting the country from a terrorist attack. But as with Iraq, more voters say they have "a lot" of confidence that Bush would make the right decisions. 43 percent have a lot of confidence in Bush, 32 percent have a lot of confidence in Kerry.

CONFIDENCE IN MAKING RIGHT DECISIONS ON TERRORISM
(Registered Voters)

John Kerry
A lot
32%
Some
39%
Not much/none
26%

George W. Bush
A lot
43%
Some
26%
Not much/none
30%

The President's overall policies on terrorism are seen as effective by 51 percent of voters, who think the Administration's policies have made the U.S. safer from terrorism. 24 percent say the policies have made the U.S. less safe, while 19 percent say there has been no effect.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S POLICIES HAVE MADE THE U.S.…
(Registered Voters)

Safer from terrorism
51%
Less safe
24%
No effect
19%

41 percent of voters are confident in Kerry's ability to handle an international crisis -- matching his highest rating ever on this question. But more voters -- 49 percent -- still remain uneasy about his approach.

Bush's ratings on handling an international crisis are also mixed. 46 percent are confident that Bush has the ability to handle such a crisis, and 52 percent are uneasy about his approach. Bush's ratings on this took a sharp drop after the revelations of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in early spring.

CONFIDENCE IN HANDLING INTERNATIONAL CRISIS
(Registered Voters)

John Kerry
Confident
41%
Uneasy
49%

George W. Bush
Confident
46%
Uneasy
52%

Kerry has gained an advantage over Bush on who would make the right decisions regarding the nation's economy. 48 percent of voters – the highest ever -- say they have confidence in Kerry's ability to make the right decisions on the economy. 45 percent still say they are uneasy about his approach. Bush's numbers have not changed since June on this question. Four in ten voters are confident in Bush's economic decisions, and 57 percent say they are uneasy about his approach.

CONFIDENCE IN MAKING RIGHT DECISIONS ABOUT NATION'S ECONOMY
(Registered Voters)

John Kerry
Confidence
Now
48%
6/2004
41%

Uneasy
Now
45%
6/2004
47%

George W. Bush
Confidence
Now
40%
6/2004
40%

Uneasy
Now
57%
6/2004
57%

Kerry's gains on this issue may be due to voters' increasingly pessimistic view of the economy. 43 percent say that in the past four years the number of jobs in their community has decreased, and many say the economy is getting worse. In fact, this poll is the first conducted by CBS News since the news that the number of jobs created in July fell far short of forecast, and the public is now less positive that the economy is improving than in the two preceding months.

52 percent of Americans now say the economy is good, compared with 55 percent and 58 percent who said so in July and June, respectively. 25 percent expect the economy will get better; 30 percent think it will get worse, and 43 percent say it will stay about the same.

CONDITION OF THE ECONOMY

Good
Now
52%
July
55%
June
58%

Bad
Now
47%
July
43%
June
41%

Many Americans see the lack of jobs as a problem that could affect them personally. 43 percent say the number of jobs in their community has decreased in the last four years; only 21 percent say there has been an increase. Three in ten say the number of jobs in their community hasn't changed. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to report job loss in their communities.

NUMBER OF JOBS IN YOUR COMMUNITY IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS:

Decreases
All
43%
Rep.
18%
Dem.
63%

Increased
All
21%
Rep.
40%
Dem.
8%

Unchanged
All
30%
Rep.
35%
Dem.
25%


Click here for Part 2 of the poll.


  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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