Poll: Bush Has Big Lead Over Dean

George Bush and Howard Dean AP / CBS

Americans continue to be upbeat about how things are going for the U.S. in Iraq, and most approve of the U.S. presence in that country. But few Americans think Saddam Hussein's capture signals the end of U.S. involvement there: majorities think the U.S. has yet to achieve its main mission in Iraq, and that the war has not yet been won. While Americans think Iraqis can create a stable democracy, most expect that process to take years.

The public expects the capture of Saddam Hussein to have little impact on the threat of terrorism against the U.S. But President Bush's popularity remains high, and he gets an electoral boost against both an unnamed Democratic candidate, and the current Democratic frontrunner, Howard Dean, as voters look ahead to 2004. But voters want that campaign to be fought on domestic, not foreign policy issues.

THE ELECTORAL BOOST

If the 2004 presidential election were being held today, President Bush would have a 9-point lead over an unspecified Democratic opponent. Now, almost half of registered voters say they would vote for President Bush, while 40% would vote for the Democratic candidate.

VOTE FOR PRESIDENT IN 2004
(Among registered voters)

Now
George W. Bush
49%
Democratic candidate
40%

After Saddam's Capture
George W. Bush
44%
Democratic candidate
40%

Before Saddam's Capture
George W. Bush
42%
Democratic candidate
41%

In polling conducted in the four days leading up to Hussein's capture, when asked who they would vote for "if Bush runs for re-election in 2004," by 42% to 41%, voters said they would vote to re-elect Bush. Bush's one-point edge increased to a four-point lead after the arrest of Saddam Hussein, but that change was within the poll's margin of error.

The current Democratic frontrunner, Howard Dean, fares less well in that pairing. If the election were held today and the candidates were Bush, the Republican and Dean, the Democrat, 55% of voters say they would vote for Bush, while 35% say they would cast their vote for Dean.

VOTE FOR PRESIDENT IN 2004
(Among registered voters)
Bush
55%
Dean
35%

In both horserace questions, vote preferences split along party lines, with Republicans and Democrats each backing their own candidate. Independents say they would vote for Bush over the Democratic contender by 51% to 31%. They will vote for Bush over Dean by a wider margin -- 57% to 28%.

54% of men who are registered to vote would vote for Bush, while women voters are more closely divided between Bush and the Democratic candidate. Both men and women say they would vote for Bush over Dean, but Bush gets more support from men than from women. 63% of men who are voters say they would vote for Bush, while 32% would vote for Dean. Among women voters, 47% would vote for Bush and 38% would cast their vote for Dean.

Eight in ten voters who want the Democratic nominee to have supported the war in Iraq would vote for Bush, while a similar number of those who prefer a nominee who opposed the war would support Dean.

Six in ten voters say their minds are made up about their vote next fall, but four in ten say they may change their minds.

THE WAR: GUARDED OPTIMISM

Optimism about how things are going for the U.S. in Iraq, which grew after Saddam's capture, continues. 65% think U.S. efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq are going well, the same as last week and up from 47% just before Hussein was captured.

HOW ARE THINGS GOING FOR U.S. IN IRAQ?
Now
Well
65%
Badly
33%

12/14-15
Well
65%
Badly
31%

12/14-15
Well
47%
Badly
51%

57% of Americans now approve of the American occupation of Iraq, up slightly from 52% in October.

U.S. OCCUPATION OF IRAQ
Now
Approve
57%
Disapprove
38%

10/2003
Approve
52%
Disapprove
42%

Americans also think that Iraqis now feel gratitude rather than resentment toward the U.S. for its role in the downfall of Saddam and the current occupation. 48%, more than in October, think Iraqis are grateful to the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, while 30% think they are feeling mostly resentful of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Americans were more positive about Iraqi reaction last April.

But the public doesn't think that American involvement in Iraq is anywhere near over. 61% think the U.S. has still not completed its main mission in Iraq, and just 32% think the main goal has been reached. That is an increase of only 6 percentage points from the public's opinion in the month before Saddam's capture.

HAS U.S. ACHIEVED ITS MAIN MISSION IN IRAQ?
Now
Yes
32%
No
61%

11/2003
Yes
26%
No
69%

In addition, some of the public's initial relief just after the capture of Saddam Hussein may have dissipated. Now, most people do not think the U.S. has won the war in Iraq; 35% think the U.S. has won, but 59% think it has not yet won. In the days after Saddam's capture, 46% thought the U.S. had won the war.

HAS THE U.S. WON THE WAR IN IRAQ?
Now
Yes
35%
No
59%

12/14-15
Yes
46%
No
47%


EXPECTATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

Most Americans expect attacks against U.S. troops to continue -- as they have since Saddam's capture. One in four expect these attacks to escalate, and another 52% think the level of attacks will stay the same; only one in five thinks the attacks against U.S. troops will now decrease.

ATTACKS AGAINST U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ WILL:
Increase
25%
Decrease
20%
Stay the same
52%

The public expects that creating a stable democracy in Iraq will be a lengthy process; 59% expect it will take years. Nearly a third thinks that a democracy in Iraq isn't likely to happen at all.

As for Saddam himself, Americans think the appropriate way to deal with Saddam Hussein is through an international court, although a sizable percentage would support trying him in an Iraqi criminal court. Very few think he ought to be tried by a U.S. military court.

EVALUATING THE WAR

The percentage of Americans who think removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the loss of life and other costs associated with the war held steady over the past week. 54% say removing him from power was worthwhile, the same number who held that view last week.

Those numbers improved after the capture of Saddam. But there is no similar change on the question of whether the war itself was worth the costs. 42% think it was, but 47% think it was not. There has been little change since last August.

That doesn't mean Americans now oppose the war itself. Nearly two-thirds believe the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action there, while a third think the U.S. ought to have stayed out. Those figures have held steady over the past nine months.

U.S. ACTION AGAINST IRAQ:
Right thing
62%
Mistake
34%

Just over four in ten continue to think Saddam or Iraq posed a threat that required immediate military action, and a similar percentage felt they posed a threat that could have been contained. Only about one in ten thought Saddam and Iraq posed no threat at all.

TERRORISM: SADDAM AND OSAMA

Few think the capture of Saddam Hussein will result in a decrease in the threat of terrorism against the U.S. Half think Saddam's capture will have no effect on the terrorist threat to the U.S., and nearly a third expects the terrorism threat to rise. The latter represents an increase since last week; then, 18% expected the threat of terrorism to rise after Saddam's capture. The Bush Administration raised the national terror alert level from yellow to orange, or elevated, while interviewing for this poll was taking place.

EFFECT OF SADDAM'S CAPTURE ON THREAT OF TERRORISM AGAINST U.S.:
Increase
31%
Decrease
15%
Stay the same
51%

Most Americans associate the war in Iraq with the war against terrorism. 46% think the war with Iraq is a major part of the war on terror, and an additional 15% think it is a minor part. One in three think the war in Iraq is separate from the terrorism war. This has changed little in recent months.

The public believes other things are likely to reduce the threat of terrorism more than the capture of Saddam Hussein. One would be establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. 41% think establishing a democracy there will make the U.S. safer from terrorism; still, even more, 52%, thinks that will have no effect.

The announcement by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi that he will end Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs was viewed as having a similar impact on the war against terrorism; 40% think that will make the U.S. safer, while 53% think that will make no difference.

The war in Iraq, the capture of Saddam and the recent elevation of the terror alert level may have refocused Americans' foreign policy priorities. 61% say finding Osama bin Laden and members of Al Qaeda is the bigger priority for the U.S., while 24% say it should be dealing with Saddam and Iraq. In September 2002, Americans were more evenly divided.

There is one more finding in this poll that has implications for the campaign against terrorism and the importance of good intelligence. Half of Americans think the U.S. government had information before September 11th that could have prevented the attacks on 9/11, and 36% think those attacks could have been prevented if the government had paid more attention to that information.


PRESIDENT BUSH

President Bush's overall approval rating now stands at 60%. Bush seems to have retained – and even boosted -- the moderate gain in his approval rating immediately after the arrest of Saddam Hussein. This is Bush's highest approval rating in half a year: in June, two-thirds approved of Bush's overall performance as President.

BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS
Now
Overall
60%
Terrorism
70%
Iraq
57%
Foreign policy
54%
Economy
48

12/14-15
Overall
58%
Terrorism
68%
Iraq
59%
Foreign policy
52%
Economy
49%

Bush's current higher approval rating comes mainly from increased support from Independents. Prior to Saddam's capture, Independents were split in their assessments of the job Bush was doing. After Saddam's arrest, 53% of Independents approved of Bush's job as President. Now, nearly two-thirds of Independents approve of him.

Bush's other approval ratings also appear to be holding steady at the post-capture levels. Bush saw some of his biggest gains in approval ratings on Iraq and foreign policy after the capture of Saddam Hussein; currently, 57% approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, and 54% approve of his handling of foreign policy. These numbers are about where they were last summer. Bush now gets a 70% approval rating for his handling of the campaign against terrorism, somewhat lower than the rating he received in July.

Bush continues to receive lower marks for his handling of the economy: 48% now approve; another 46% disapprove. Bush's economy rating was one area in which he did not receive a boost from the capture of Saddam Hussein; however, it is now somewhat higher than it was in the fall, coinciding with the public's perception of the nation's improved economy.


THE ECONOMY AND THE COUNTRY'S DIRECTION

59% say the economy is good, while 40% think it is bad. This is the most optimistic assessment since last May, when two-thirds thought the economy was in good shape.

Views of the economy were becoming more positive before the arrest of Saddam Hussein. The capture of the former Iraqi dictator had little impact on the public's perceptions of the economy.

51% of Americans now view the U.S. as headed in the right direction; 43% say it is on the wrong track. This is the first time since April that more than half of Americans has expressed positive assessments of the country's direction. Immediately before the capture of Saddam Hussein, 56% of the public said the U.S. was on the wrong track.

Views of the country's direction are strongly correlated with views of the economy and the war in Iraq. About seven in ten Americans who evaluate positively the economy or the war in Iraq see the country as going in the right direction, while similar numbers of those who view the economy or the war negatively think the country is on the wrong track.


CAMPAIGN ISSUES

The economy is still the top issue on the minds of voters during this presidential campaign, but the number who want the candidates to discuss the war in Iraq and foreign policy has risen slightly in the last week.

25% of registered voters say they would like to hear the presidential candidates talk about the economy, 16% say healthcare and Medicare, followed by 12% who say the war in Iraq and foreign policy.

Even with less than a month to go before the Iowa caucuses and less than a year before the general election, voters are still not focused on the 2004 presidential campaign. Only one in five say they are paying a lot of attention to the campaign, 42% are paying some attention, and 38% say they are paying little or no attention to it. These numbers are virtually unchanged since September.

ATTENTION TO THE CAMPAIGN:
A lot
20%
Some
42%
Not much/none
38%


THE DEMOCRATS AND THE WAR

Many likely Democratic primary voters are still undecided and most of those backing a candidate say their minds aren't made up for sure; and while former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean continues to lead the pack of candidates, his lead is narrower than it was in the days just after the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Now, 16% of Democratic primary voters back Dean as the Democratic nominee, down from 23% last week. He is followed by General Wesley Clark with 10% and Representative Richard Gephardt with 9%.

CHOICE FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE
(Democratic primary voters)
Now
Howard Dean
16%
Wesley Clark
10%
Richard Gephardt
9%
Joe Lieberman
6%
Carol Moseley-Braun
6%
John Edwards
5%
John Kerry
4%
Al Sharpton
2%
Dennis Kucinich
2%
Don't Know
24%


12-14-16
Howard Dean
23%
Wesley Clark
10%
Joe Lieberman
10%
Richard Gephardt
6%
Al Sharpton
5%
John Kerry
4%
John Edwards
2%
Carol Moseley-Braun
1%
Dennis Kucinich
1%
Don't Know
28%

The margin of error in this poll for Democratic primary voters is larger than the overall margin of error for the total sample: there were 244 registered voters who said they would vote in the Democratic primary in this survey. And uncertainty among those Democratic primary voters remains. Just 27% who currently back a candidate for the Democratic nomination say their mind is made up; 71% say it too early to say whether their choice is definite.

Some of Dean's support may be due to his opposition to the war in Iraq, and more Democratic primary voters are looking for an anti-war rather than a pro-war candidate. 39% of Democratic primary voters say they would prefer a nominee who was opposed to the war, compared to 25% who prefer a nominee who supported it. But 33% say the Democratic nominee's stance on the war in Iraq doesn't matter to them.

However, among all voters that sentiment is reversed. 41% of registered voters would prefer a Democratic nominee who supported the war, while about half that number -- 22% -- are looking for an anti-war nominee.


THE INTERNET

To a greater extent than has been done before, Howard Dean's campaign has utilized the Internet to raise campaign contributions, communicate information and generate enthusiasm among supporters. Among those likely Democratic primary voters who access the Internet, Howard Dean is the top candidate. 18% of this group would like to see him as the nominee, followed by Wesley Clark with 13% and Gephardt with 11%.

But Democratic primary voters don't seem much more likely than registered voters overall to be using the Internet to obtain information about candidates -- and fewer than one in five are doing so. 16% of Democratic primary voters with Internet access (and 17% of registered voters) have visited a campaign, candidate, party or other political web site for information on the upcoming presidential election.

VISITED A WEB SITE FOR 2004 ELECTION INFORMATION
(Among those with Internet access)
All voters
17%
Democratic primary voters
16%

A significant number of voters -- Democratic primary and otherwise - think the Internet is making a positive contribution to the political process. 37% of voters and 39% of Democratic primary voters with Internet access think the Internet has changed for the better the way politicians conduct campaigns in this country. Similar percentages think the Internet has yet to make an impact on politics, and fewer than one in ten of either group think it has changed things for the worse.

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


This CBS News Poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 799 adults interviewed by telephone December 21-22, 2003. 685 registered voters and 244 Democratic Primary Voters were interviewed. The margin of error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The error for registered voters could be plus or minus four points, and for Democratic primary voters it could be plus or minus six points.
  • Joel Roberts

Comments