Kerry Tops Bush In CBS Poll

Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., flashes a thumb up during a rally at Oscar E. Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va., Sunday Feb. 8, 2004.
AP
Americans' continued worries about jobs and the economy, along with a decreasing belief that Iraq posed an immediate threat to the U.S., has weakened what had been strong support for George W. Bush, and given his Democratic opponents an advantage -- at least for now. Most Americans also believe the Bush Administration exaggerated the pre-war intelligence about Iraqi weapons, and that Bush's self-described status as a "war President" was brought on by his own choices, not forced upon him by world events.
  • Registered voters now give a five-point lead to an unnamed Democratic candidate over George W. Bush. By 47 percent to 42 percent registered voters now say they would support a Democrat over the Republican President.
  • But different Democrats fare differently against the President. If the November election were held today, voters would favor Kerry over Bush 48 percent to 43 percent. Meanwhile, Bush would defeat John Edwards 50 percent to 41 percent and Howard Dean by a much more sizeable 54 percent to 37 percent margin.
  • George W. Bush's job approval is 50 percent, unchanged since last month. His ratings in specific areas -- on the economy, foreign policy, and handling Iraq -- are under 50 percnet, and only when it comes to his handling of terrorism does a majority approve of his performance. 57 percent say the Administration exaggerated pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons in order to rally support for the war.
  • Views of the direction the country is headed are often considered a predictor of how an incumbent president will do when he stands for re-election, and from that perspective the news for Bush is not good. 51 percent think the country is headed on the wrong track, while 41 percent think it is going in the right direction.

    Last December, Bush would have prevailed over an unnamed Democrat by nine percentage points, 49 percent to 40 percent.

    WHO WOULD YOU VOTE FOR?
    (Registered voters)

    George W. Bush
    42%
    "The Democratic candidate"
    47%

    George W. Bush
    43%
    John Kerry
    48%

    George W. Bush
    50%
    John Edwards
    41%

    George W. Bush
    54%
    Howard Dean
    37%

    One of the reasons that Kerry does so well against Bush is that he is able to keep the greatest share of Democratic voters -- he is the frontrunner for the party's nomination both in the number of primary and caucus victories so far and in overall popular support, and as the choice of more than half the Democratic primary voters in this poll. In the General Election match-ups, Kerry would be the choice of 84 percent of Democrats, while 12 percent of Democrats would vote to re-elect the President. John Edwards would get the backing of 72 percent of Democrats with 19 percent choosing George Bush, while Dean would get just 67 percent of Democrats -- with nearly one-quarter backing Bush instead.

    OPINIONS ABOUT THE PRESIDENT
    In late December, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, the president's overall approval rating was 60 percent. Last month, it slipped to 50 percent, where it remains today.

    BUSH OVERALL JOB APPROVAL

    Approve
    Now
    50%
    1/2004
    50%
    12/2003
    60%

    Disapprove
    Now
    42%
    1/2004
    45%
    12/2003
    33%

    Bush's ratings on specific issues have changed little since last month, but all have declined since December. A majority still approves of his handling of the campaign against terrorism, while less than half approve of the way he is handling the situation in Iraq.

    The public is split on his handling of foreign policy: 46 percent approve, 45 percent disapprove. Bush receives his lowest rating on his handling of the economy: only 44 percent approve while 50 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing on the economy.

    BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS

    Terrorism
    Now
    64%
    12/2003
    70%

    Iraq
    Now
    49%
    12/2003
    57%

    Foreign Policy
    Now
    46%
    12/2003
    54%

    Economy
    Now
    44%
    12/2003
    48%

    In a recent television interview, Bush called himself a "war President," willing to make the tough decisions that role requires -- a role that he has been placed in by world events. But in this poll, most Americans say that Bush has chosen to become a war President, rather than having been forced to become one. 51 percent say the choices Bush makes have caused him to be a war President, while 40 percent say Bush is a war president because world events have forced him into that role.

    BUSH IS A "WAR PRESIDENT" BECAUSE OF …

    World events
    40%
    His choices
    51%

    Democrats and Republicans disagree as to the reason Bush is a war president. 73 percent of Democrats say Bush is a war president because of the choices he makes, while 68 percent of Republicans think world events have forced him to be one. Also, women are more likely than men to say Bush's own choices have made him a war president.

    Most Americans (52 percent) are confident Bush can handle an international crisis, while 45 percent are uneasy about his approach. Americans are less confident in Bush's ability to make economic decisions. 45 percent are confident that Bush can make the right decisions about the nation's economy but most - 52 percent - are uneasy about his approach.

    CONFIDENCE IN BUSH'S ABILITY TO DEAL WITH:

    International crisis
    Yes
    52%
    No
    45%

    Economic decisions
    Yes
    45%
    No
    52%

    In more personal evaluations of the President, a majority says that Bush cares about them, but at the same time, Americans do not think he shares their priorities for the country. Six in ten say the president cares about their needs and problems. However, 50 percent say Bush does not have the same priorities for the country as they do.

    EVALUATING PRESIDENT BUSH

    Cares about people like you
    Yes
    62%
    No
    38%

    Has the same priorities for the country as you
    Yes
    44%
    No
    50%

    When he campaigned for president in 2000 Bush said he wanted to be seen as a uniter, not a divider. Three years into his presidency, more Americans see Bush as a divider than a uniter. 46 percent say Bush's presidency has divided different groups of Americans, while just 37 percent say his presidency has brought people together. Last month, Americans were more evenly split.

    BUSH PRESIDENCY HAS…

    Brought different groups together
    2/2004
    37%
    1/2004
    43%

    Divided them
    2/2004
    46%
    1/2004
    44%

    Overall opinions of Bush are virtually unchanged from last month, though they are much changed from the extremely favorable views the public had of the President after the September 11th attacks. 44 percent of Americans now have a favorable view of the President, while 36 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.

    DOUBTS ABOUT IRAQ AND THE WEAPONS HUNT
    57 percent of Americans now believe the Bush Administration exaggerated the intelligence it received about weapons of mass destruction to build support for the war. 35 percent think the Administration interpreted the intelligence information accurately.

    BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S HANDLING OF INTELLIGENCE ON IRAQI WEAPONS:

    Interpreted accurately
    35%
    Exaggerated to build support for war
    57%

    Most Republicans say the Bush Administration accurately interpreted the intelligence it received, but 82 percent of Democrats -- and most Independents -- fault the Administration for exaggerating the information in order to get public support for going to war. Among those who think the administration accurately interpreted intelligence about weapons in Iraq, 87 percent approve of the president's handling of Iraq. Of those who think intelligence was hyped in order to build support for the war, 68 percent disapprove of the way Bush is handling the Iraq situation.

    Yet in the eyes of many Americans exaggerating may not be the same as lying in this case: asked if the Bush Administration was telling all that it knew about weapons before the war, only 16 percent described the Administration as lying about the weapons, fewer than in January and the same number as in December.

    Many Americans believe there are still weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that the U.S. hasn't found yet. This belief that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction has, however, declined sharply since last April, when U.S. troops took control of Baghdad: then, 81 percent believed Iraq probably had such weapons. In November, Americans still thought Iraq has weapons of mass destruction by almost a two to one margin.

    DOES IRAQ HAVE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?

    Probably does
    Now
    49%
    11/2003
    62%
    4/2003
    81%

    Probably doesn't
    Now
    41%
    11/2003
    31%
    4/2003
    12%

    However, this issue may have lost some significance: most now say it does not matter whether or not the U.S. finds weapons in Iraq. In June, most Americans said it did matter. Today, majorities of Republicans and Independents say it doesn't matter, while Democrats are evenly split on this issue.

    DOES IT MATTER WHETHER THE U.S. FINDS WEAPONS IN IRAQ?

    Yes, it matters
    Now
    44%
    8/2003
    48%
    6/2003
    58%

    No, doesn't matter
    Now
    53%
    8/2003
    48%
    6/2003
    40%

    Two-thirds of the public blames U.S. intelligence agencies such as the C.I.A. for what they believe was a bad job assessing the weapons situation in Iraq before the war. Just over a quarter think the intelligence agencies did a good job.

    U.S. INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES' JOB ASSESSING THE THREAT OF WEAPONS IN IRAQ BEFORE THE WAR:

    Excellent
    3%
    Good
    25%
    Fair
    38%
    Poor
    28%

    Six in ten who think the U.S. intelligence agencies did an excellent or good job assessing the weapons situation also believe the Administration accurately interpreted the information it received, but seven in ten Americans who think the intelligence agencies performed badly say the Administration exaggerated what it knew.

    Concerns about exaggerated allegations are related to the public's perception of Bush's honesty and integrity. Of those who think the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence to build support for the war, 34 percent say Bush has more honesty and integrity than most people in public life, but three-quarters of those who think the administration interpreted pre-war intelligence accurately say Bush has more honesty and integrity than others in public life. Overall, 50 percent of Americans now say Bush has more honesty and integrity than most people in public life, while a quarter says he has the same amount and 14 percent think he has less.

    Many Americans continue to doubt that the war in Iraq's outcome was worth it. 50 percent think the result of the war in Iraq was not worth the loss of American life and other costs, unchanged since last month. 41 percent say it was worth it.

    WAS IRAQ WAR WORTH THE COSTS?

    Yes
    41%
    No
    50%

    Looking back now, less than two in five Americans view Iraq as a threat that required immediate military action -- a 20-point decline from those who thought so last April after the fall of Baghdad. 43 percent now view Iraq as a threat that could have been contained, and 15 percent say Iraq was not a threat to the U.S.

    IRAQ WAS A THREAT THAT…

    Required immediate military action
    Now
    39%
    12/2003
    44%
    4/2003
    58%

    Could have been contained
    Now
    43%
    12/2003
    37%
    4/2003
    32%

    Was not a threat
    Now
    15%
    12/2003
    15%
    4/2003
    8%

    In addition, a declining number of Americans agree with President Bush that, as a result of the war in Iraq, the United States is safer from terrorism: 42 percent now think so, compared with half who said so in January. About one in five now thinks the U.S. is less safe from terrorism because of the war with Iraq, and more than a third say the war has made no difference.

    AS A RESULT OF WAR WITH IRAQ, THE U.S. IS NOW…

    Safer from terrorism
    Now
    42%
    1/2004
    50%

    Less safe
    Now
    19%
    1/2004
    18%

    No difference
    Now
    36%
    1/2004
    29%

    Despite the criticisms of the intelligence that brought the U.S. to war, and concerns about whether the outcome was worth it, 58 percent still say the U.S. did the right thing in going to war with Iraq. However, this is an eleven point drop since last March, when seven in ten Americans said so.

    DID THE U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING TO GO TO WAR WITH IRAQ?

    Yes, right thing
    Now
    58%
    12/2003
    63%
    3/2003
    69%

    No, should have stayed out
    Now
    37%
    12/2003
    31%
    3/2003
    25%

    CONCERNS ABOUT THE ECONOMY
    51 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, and 41 percent think it is on the right track. In large part, that negative outlook is closely correlated with views on the economy. While perceptions of the economy became more optimistic in late 2003, they have become heavily guarded. 53 percent now think the economy is in good shape, but nearly as many think it is in bad shape.

    RATING THE ECONOMY

    Good shape
    Now
    53%
    1/2004
    54%
    10/2003
    45%

    Bad shape
    Now
    46%
    1/2004
    45%
    10/2003
    54%

    A third of Americans think it is getting better, 27% think it is getting worse, and 39% see no change.

    When it comes to Bush's specific domestic interests, such as creating jobs and cutting taxes, many Americans do not think the administration has made much progress. While recent economic news may be encouraging, there is evidence that many Americans see the improvements in the economy as a "jobless recovery." In fact, 45 percent think the administration's policies have caused the number of jobs to decrease, while only 16 percent think it has increased jobs.

    ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE CAUSED JOBS TO:

    Increase
    16%
    Decrease
    45%
    Stay the same
    28%

    Moreover, many say they haven't seen any personal benefit from the Bush tax cuts. 45 percent have seen no change in their taxes, 27 percent say their taxes have gone up as a result of the administration's policies, while 23 percent say they have gone down.

    ADMINISTRATION POLICIES HAVE CAUSED YOUR TAXES TO:
    Go up
    27%
    Go down
    23%
    Not affected them
    45%

    LOOKING TO NOVEMBER
    Bush can count on the solid and continuing support of Republicans and conservatives, while a (yet unnamed) Democrat holds the lead among women, Democrats, liberals and moderates. The President faces his greatest erosion in support among those living in the Midwest, Independents and those aged 45 to 64. Bush led in December among all those groups. Now, he would lose all three groups to a Democrat.

    WOULD VOTE FOR:
    (Registered voters)

    TOTAL
    George W. Bush
    Now
    42%
    1/2004
    43%
    12/2003
    49%

    Democratic candidate
    Now
    47%
    1/2004
    45%
    12/2003
    40%

    MIDWESTERNERS
    George W. Bush
    Now
    41%
    1/2004
    44%
    12/2003
    47%

    Democratic candidate
    Now
    49%
    1/2004
    44%
    12/2003
    41%

    INDEPENDENTS
    George W. Bush
    Now
    38%
    1/2004
    37%
    12/2003
    51%

    Democratic candidate
    Now
    48%
    1/2004
    46%
    12/2003
    31%

    AGE 45 - 64
    George W. Bush
    Now
    40%
    1/2004
    44%
    12/2003
    54%

    Democratic candidate
    Now
    49%
    1/2004
    41%
    12/2003
    35%

    In a pairing between George W. Bush and John Kerry, the President would now lose among these three groups as well.

    Attention to the campaign has mounted in the past month since the Democratic primaries and caucuses began, and now nearly four in ten voters are paying a lot of attention. That includes rising numbers of Republicans as well (37 percent of them are now paying a lot of attention too), although there is no contest on the Republican side.

    ATTENTION TO THE CAMPAIGN
    (Registered voters)

    A lot
    Now
    37%
    1/2004
    22%
    2/2000
    22%

    Some
    Now
    41%
    1/2004
    43%
    2/2000
    45%

    Not much/not at all
    Now
    22%
    1/2004
    34%
    2/2000
    32%

    This year's election may be generating more interest than usual. At this point in Campaign 2000, just 22 percent of voters were paying a lot of attention.

    THE DEMOCRATS
    Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is the overwhelming choice of Democratic primary voters across the nation, favored by 53 percent. His nearest rivals are Howard Dean at 8 percent and John Edwards at 7 percent. Just 15 percent remain unsure about their choice. In a dramatic demonstration of how much the early primary states -- and Kerry's nearly unblemished record in them -- have re-shaped the national race, Kerry's 53 percent today stands in stark contrast to the 7 percent backing he received before the Iowa caucuses in January.

    CHOICE FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE
    (Democratic primary voters)

    John Kerry
    Now
    53%
    1/2004
    7%

    Howard Dean
    Now
    8%
    1/2004
    24%

    John Edwards
    Now
    7%
    1/2004
    5%

    Dennis Kucinich
    Now
    1%
    1/2004
    1%

    Al Sharpton
    Now
    4%
    1/2004
    3%

    Undecided
    Now
    15%
    1/2004
    15%

    And in a sign that Kerry's appeal may be even broader than his current level of support, 81 percent of Democratic voters say they would be satisfied if Kerry were the nominee. Of those who currently support someone else, a solid majority -- 64 percent -- would still be satisfied with Kerry.

    WOULD YOU BE SATISFIED WITH KERRY AS NOMINEE?
    (Democratic primary voters)
    Yes
    81%
    No
    11%

    Almost one in five Democratic voters today say they did support former Governor Howard Dean at one time. Most of them -- 60 percent -- now back John Kerry.

    Although Kerry has a huge lead, the race might not be over just yet, though: about half of primary voters who have not yet cast a ballot say they could still change their minds about their choice of nominee.

    Democratic voters don't necessarily see Kerry's "momentum" as just his early wins. About three-quarters of Democratic voters say that the winner of Iowa and New Hampshire does not necessarily deserve to win the nomination. Instead, Democratic voters are thinking about economic issues and the ability to defeat George W. Bush in November.

    When asked the main reason they are supporting their candidate, Democratic voters most frequently cite the economy and the candidates' perceived ability to improve it, followed by the candidate's perceived ability to win in November.

    MAIN REASON SUPPORTING CANDIDATE
    (Democratic primary voters who support a candidate)
    Economic positions 12%
    Can win in November 9%
    Agrees on ideology 9%
    His style 6%
    Positions on issues 6%

    Given a forced choice between a candidate who agrees on the issues and one who can win in November, most Democratic voters want the nominee to match them on the issues. 34 percent say they are looking more for a winner in the fall. This is much the same sentiment seen in exit polls of the voters who have weighed in so far in early primary and caucus states.

    WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT IN YOUR CANDIDATE CHOICE?
    (Democratic primary voters)
    Someone who can beat George W. Bush 34%
    Someone who agrees with you on issues 55%

    For those in this poll who are looking for someone to beat the incumbent President, their choice is overwhelmingly John Kerry -- favored by 71 percent of them. Kerry also is favored by those looking for agreement on issues, though not as strongly, at 47 percent.

    Registered voters as a whole say they will focus on issues in November. By more that two to one, voters say that issues will dominate over the candidate's character and values. That holds especially true among Democrats, 73 percent of whom will look to issue positions in deciding their vote choice.

    WHICH WILL BE MORE IMPORTANT IN YOUR VOTE?
    (Registered voters)
    Positions on issues 66%
    Character and values 28%

    More than half of voters say that it is very or somewhat important for a president to have served in the military. However, the value of military experience doesn't seem to be more important this year than it was in previous elections. In 1992, 52 percent said military service was very or somewhat important.

    The contest on the Democratic side hasn't had much impact on overall perceptions of the two political parties. The Democrats still hold an advantage; 52 percent of voters have a favorable view of the Republican party, but 58 percent have a positive image of the Democratic party.

    THE PROCESS OF CHOOSING NOMINEES
    Voters display some uneasiness about the overall process of choosing political nominees. 44 percent think the current system of primaries and caucuses produces the best possible candidates, but 46 percent think it does not. Among Democratic primary voters, who in this election are facing a drastically foreshortened primary season, only 38 percent think the process produces the best candidates.

    DOES PRIMARY PROCESS PRODUCE BEST CANDIDATES?

    All Voters
    Yes 44%
    No 46%

    Democratic primary voters
    Yes 38%
    No 50%

    Criticism of the process of selecting nominees is not just a matter of disenfranchisement from the process. While most voters (56 percent) think their own state has the right amount of influence on the nomination process, even those voters who feel their state has too much influence don't think the process results in the best candidates. And the majority of Democratic primary voters think the winner of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries does not necessarily deserve to win the nomination.

    SHOULD IOWA AND NEW HAMPSHIRE WINNER GET NOMINATION?
    (Democratic primary voters)
    Yes 16%
    No 73%



    This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1221 adults, interviewed by telephone February 12-15, 2004. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.
    For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.