Poll: Bush Holding Lead Over Kerry

George W. Bush and John F. Kerry campaigning in Davenport, Iowa, side-by-side AP / CBS

The contest between President George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry looks much as it did in a CBS News Poll conducted last week, after the Republican convention. Bush's post-convention bounce remains intact, if even slightly larger in this poll; Bush now leads Kerry 50 percent to 41 percent among registered voters, giving the President a 9-point margin.

PRESIDENTIAL HORSERACE
(Registered Voters)

Bush-Cheney
Now
50%
Last week
49%

Kerry-Edwards
Now
41%
Last week
42%

Nader-Camejo
Now
3%
Last week
1%

Ralph Nader may be on the ballot in some states in November, and he receives 3 percent of the vote. Without Nader on the ballot, Bush's lead is slightly smaller, at 8 points; in a two-way contest, Bush would receive 50 percent to Kerry's 42 percent.

Voters in 18 battleground states favor Bush over Kerry by 53 percent to 39 percent.

THE CAMPAIGN
Many voters don't like what they are seeing in this year's election -- just under half think it is more negative than past campaigns. In fact, current perceptions of the tenor of the campaign are the most negative they've been since 1992, when CBS first asked the question.

COMPARED TO PAST, THIS ELECTION IS…
(Registered voters)

More negative
Now
45%
5/2000
17%
10/1992
37%

More positive
Now
9%
5/2000
22%
10/1992
23%

About the same
Now
44%
5/2000
57%
10/1992
35%

Kerry is viewed as the candidate on the attack. Now, 54 percent of voters think Kerry has been spending more time attacking Bush, up from last week. 37 percent think he has been spending more time explaining what he would do as President. More voters say Bush has been spending more time explaining what he would do, though almost as many say he has been spending more time attacking Kerry.

KERRY IS SPENDING MORE TIME:
(Registered voters)

Explaining what he would do
Now
37%
Last week
42%
8/2004
47%

Attacking Bush
Now
54%
Last week
47%
8/2004
42%

BUSH IS SPENDING MORE TIME:
(Registered voters)

Explaining what he would do
Now
47%
Last week
49%
8/2004
44%

Attacking Kerry
Now
45%
Last week
41%
8/2004
43%

But despite the negativity, or maybe even because of it, voters are heavily engaged in this election. Two thirds think this year's election campaign is interesting. By comparison, three out of the last four elections (2000, 1996 and 1988) never seemed that interesting to voters, even just before Election Day. Voters became somewhat more intrigued by the 1992 election before Election Day, but as late as early October, only 57 percent found that campaign interesting.

CAMPAIGN IS…
(Registered voters)

Interesting
Now
67%
10/2000
56%
10/1996
42%
10/1992
57%
10/1988*
41%

Dull
Now
29%
10/2000
39%
10/1996
54%
10/1992
39%
10/1988*
53%

*Likely voters

Nearly nine in ten voters are paying at least some attention to the campaign this year, with 52 percent paying a lot of attention. That hasn't changed since last week.

It's not that most voters are in suspense about the outcome -- six in ten voters expect George W. Bush to be re-elected in November. Even among Kerry voters, 28 percent expect a Bush victory.

MOBILIZATION – BUSH'S LEAD
Bush appears to have done a much better job mobilizing the support of his base of traditionally Republican voters than Kerry has with some traditionally Democratic groups:

Bush receives the support of nearly nine in ten Republicans; only 7 percent plan to support Kerry. Bush also has the votes of nearly eight in ten conservatives, and he solidly receives the vote of an important voting bloc that has traditionally backed Republicans -- white evangelicals. Conservative white evangelicals are even stronger in their support for the President.

While Kerry does have the votes of most liberals, a sizable chunk -- 20 percent -- support Bush. That is more than the percentage of conservatives who are crossing over to support Kerry. One historical source of support for Democratic candidates -- union households -- has yet to solidly back Kerry. Kerry receives just under half of the vote from this group, and nearly four in ten voters who live in a union household plan to support Bush. Nearly all African American voters are supporting Kerry.

PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST AMONG DEMOGRAPHIC GROUPS
(Registered voters)

Republicans
Kerry
7%
Bush
87%
Nader
2%

Conservatives
Kerry
15%
Bush
78%
Nader
1%

White evangelicals
19%
Bush
76%
Nader
1%

White conservative evangelicals
Kerry
8%
Bush
88%
Nader
1%

Democrats
Kerry
83%
Bush
11%
Nader
2%

Liberals
Now
67%
Bush
20%
Nader
9%

Union households
Kerry
49%
Bush
38%
Nader
6%

Union members
Kerry
51%
Bush
39%
Nader
4%

Blacks
Kerry
80%
Bush
8%
Nader
0%

As they did last week, Independents favor Bush by 8 points. By 49 percent to 42 percent, women are supporting Bush over Kerry (this was true in last week's poll as well). Suburban and rural voters are supporting Bush by double-digit margins, while the urban vote is divided between the two candidates.

There is further evidence that John Kerry's support may be softening. The percentage of his supporters who strongly favor him has dwindled in last week's poll and again in this one; now just four in ten Kerry voters say they strongly favor him. Almost six in ten either have reservations about him, or are voting against Bush.

KERRY'S SUPPORT
(Registered voters supporting Kerry)

Strongly favor
Now
40%
Last week
45%
7/2004
54%

Like with reservations
Now
27%
Last week
24%
7/2004
19%

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

Enthusiasm among George Bush's voters, on the other hand, is much higher. 63% of them strongly favor their candidate, and only 27% have reservations about him. 9% support him as an anti-Kerry vote.

BUSH'S SUPPORT
(Registered voters supporting Bush)

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

Like with reservations
Now
27%
Last week
28%
7/2004
24%

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

Only about one in five voters say they aren't sure who they will vote for or say they could change their mind about which candidate to support.

THE BIG ISSUES
As has been the case since August, economy and jobs remain the top issue voters want to hear the presidential candidates discuss, at 24 percent. The war in Iraq follows at 17 percent, and health care is third, mentioned by 16 percent.

ISSUE MOST LIKE TO HEAR CANDIDATES DISCUSS:
(Registered Voters)

Economy and jobs
All voters
24%
Kerry voters
29%
Bush voters
18%

War in Iraq
All voters
17%
Kerry voters
22%
Bush voters
13%

Health care/Medicare/Medicaid/Rx
All voters
16%
Kerry voters
19%
Bush voters
13%

Terrorism
All voters
6%
Kerry voters
1%
Bush voters
10%

Defense/Foreign policy
All voters
6%
Kerry voters
3%
Bush voters
8%

Education
All voters
5%
Kerry voters
6%
Bush voters
4%


Supporters of each candidate have different priorities. The economy and jobs is the top issue for both Kerry and Bush voters, but Kerry voters are more likely than Bush voters to want the candidates talk about this issue, 29 percent to 18 percent. Kerry voters also want to hear discussion of the war in Iraq more than do than Bush voters, 22 percent to 13 percent. But 10 percent of Bush voters most want to hear the candidates discuss terrorism, compared with just one percent of Kerry voters.

Many feel distanced from the candidates; over a third say that neither candidate is talking about the issues they want addressed in the campaign. About four in ten think Bush and/or Kerry are addressing the issues they want to hear about.

ARE CANDIDATES DISCUSSING ISSUE YOU WANT TO HEAR ABOUT?
(Registered voters)

Kerry is
16%
Bush is
16%
Both are
24%
Neither is
35%

Even many of each candidate's supporters aren't hearing discussion of the issue they are most interested in. Only about half of Kerry voters, and 56 percent of Bush voters, think their candidate is addressing their primary issue.

TERRORISM AND THE CAMPAIGN
America's voters clearly distinguish between the external threat of terrorism, which many feel will remain unabated regardless of who wins the election, and a President's aptitude in handling that threat -- an ability where George W. Bush still holds a large lead over John Kerry.

Although Vice-President Dick Cheney last week implied a link between the election's outcome and another terror attack, many voters see no such relationship. More than half, 57 percent, say the threat will stay the same if Kerry wins, and 60 percent say the threat would remain unchanged after a Bush re-election.

IF …… IS ELECTED THE TERROR THREAT WILL…?
(Registered voters)

Kerry wins
Increase
27%
Decrease
13%
Stay the same
57%

Bush wins
Increase
25%
Decrease
12%
Stay the same
60%

About half of each candidate's voters fear the worst about the opponent, while only about one-quarter of each candidate's voters think the election of their favored candidate will decrease the terrorist threat. But voters have very different views about which candidate will best keep a threat from materializing into tragedy. 50% of voters have a lot of confidence in George W. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about protecting the U.S. – almost twice as many as the 26% who have that kind of confidence in John Kerry. The gap between the two men is wider than it was before the Republican Convention.

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

Kerry
A lot
Now
26%
Last week
26%
August
32%

Some
Now
37%
Last week
34%
August
39%

Not much/none
Now
35%
Last week
37%
August
26%

Bush
A lot
Now
50%
Last week
47%
August
43%

Some
Now
26%
Last week
26%
August
26%

Not much/none
Now
24%
Last week
26%
August
30%


The belief that another attack is imminent has subsided a bit since the summer. Fewer than one in five Americans thinks an attack in the next few months is very likely, but more than six in ten think it at least somewhat likely.


Click here for Part 2 of the poll.


  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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