Poll: Bush Up 3 Pts. In Final Days

GENERIC John Kerry and George Bush over presidential seal and flag AP / CBS

The race for the White House heads into its final two days very close in the nationwide popular vote, and nearly the same as it was two weeks ago. President George W. Bush holds a three-point lead over Senator John Kerry among likely voters, an edge within this poll's margin of error.

CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT
(Likely voters)

Now
Bush-Cheney
49%
Kerry-Edwards
46%
Nader-Camejo
1%

Two weeks ago
Bush-Cheney
47%
Kerry-Edwards
45%
Nader-Camejo
2%

Independent candidate Ralph Nader draws one percent of the vote. (Nader was offered as a choice to voters in states where he is on the ballot.)

The number of uncommitted voters up for grabs nationwide remains small: less than one in ten likely voters still either has no choice at all, or has a choice but might still change their mind before Tuesday.

While these uncommitted voters are still pondering their decision, others have already cast a ballot. In many states (including battlegrounds like Florida) in-person early voting began weeks ago. Today one in five voters nationwide say they have already cast their ballot in some way, and still more were planning to do so before Tuesday when interviewed Thursday through Saturday.

HOW WILL YOU CAST YOUR BALLOT?
(Likely voters)

Already have – by mail
10%
Already have – by early voting
10%
Will return an absentee ballot before Tuesday
2%
Will vote early before Tuesday
1%
Will vote at precinct on Election Day
76%

13% of likely voters volunteered that they already voted when we asked if they were likely to vote this year; the remainder told us that they had done so when we asked the method by which were voting.

Early voters split about evenly, one-third each between Democrats, Republicans and Independents. They are a bit older: one-quarter are 65 or over, and eight in ten are above age 45. President Bush holds a lead among them.

ALREADY CAST A BALLOT: WHO DID YOU VOTE FOR?

Bush
51%
Kerry
43%

Fitting for a poll released on Halloween – and perhaps emblematic of a nation passionately divided this election year – many voters say they would feel scared about the future if one of the candidates gets elected. 28% would be scared if Bush is re-elected – up from 17% who, in October of 2000, said they were frightened by the thought of a then-potential Bush presidency. Today, 23% would feel scared if Kerry takes the White House. One in five felt that way about Al Gore in October 2000.

Neither candidate, by contrast, inspires a lot of excitement. 16% say they would be excited if Bush wins, and another 31% would be optimistic (but not excited). 24% would be concerned. If Kerry were elected, one in ten voters would be excited, another third optimistic, and 31% of voters say they would be concerned.

The electorate continues to split over how to frame their decision: about half say national security is paramount in their minds, and about half say either economic issues are number one or at least on equal footing with national security.

This poll was being conducted as the new tape of terrorist Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden surfaced; only its final day, Saturday, followed the tape's airing. In the interviews conducted after the tape (and news stories about it) was aired, the results were about the same; the number who said national security did not increase.

National security voters back Bush and economic voters - or those considering both equally - back Kerry.

Most voters nationwide think a terror attack aimed at disrupting the elections is not likely.

But these concerns rose a bit on Saturday. In interviews conducted the day after the release of the most recent videotaped message from Osama bin Laden, 14% said an attack was very likely, more than double the percentage in the previous days.

Nearly half of voters think the war on terrorism could be won even if bin Laden is not captured or killed. This is up 12 points since September.

VOTE COUNTING AND VOTER SUPPRESSION

Despite all the recent news about potential voting problems in this election, most registered voters do NOT personally expect to encounter problems that might prevent them from voting or prevent their vote from being accurately counted. But 29% - including a majority of black voters - are concerned about having voting problems. Also, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to be concerned. Voters under 30 personally expect to encounter voting problems compared to older voters.

CONCERNED YOU WILL HAVE PROBLEMS VOTING IN THIS ELECTION
(Registered voters)

Very
10%
Somewhat
19%
Not very
25%
Not at all
45%

Most voters - 79% - have confidence that the national vote for president will be counted properly this year, including 35% who express a lot of confidence. Democrats are not as confident as Republicans that the votes will be properly counted. While eight in 10 white voters are confident the voters will be counted accurately, 63% of black voters are confident.

CONFIDENT VOTES WILL BE COUNTED PROPERLY
(Registered voters)

A lot
35%
Some
44%
Not much/None
19%

Most voters do not think there is a deliberate attempt in some states to prevent African-Americans and others from voting or having their votes counted. Among African-American voters, however, a large majority thinks there is a deliberate attempt in some states to keep them from voting.

IS THERE A DELIBERATE ATTEMPT TO PREVENT AFRICAN AMERICANS
FROM VOTING?

(Registered voters)

Yes
36%
No
57%

THE 2004 CAMPAIGN

Three in four voters find this presidential election campaign interesting and almost as many say the election is very important to them. In October 2000, fewer voters thought that presidential campaign was interesting or that the outcome was very important to them and their families.

Despite voter engagement in this year's campaign, over half say it is more negative than past campaigns. In fact, the percentage saying the campaign is more negative has risen 10 points from just two weeks ago.

Kerry is more likely to be seen as the attacker. Six in ten voters say Kerry is spending his time mainly attacking Bush; half say Bush is mostly attacking Kerry –- down from 56% two weeks ago.

LOOKING BACK: EVALUATING THE PRESIDENT

President George W. Bush receives middling job approval ratings from voters, and many believe his policies have not done much to stimulate job growth. But those negatives may be countered by voters' continued confidence in Bush's handling of terrorism and the belief that his policies have made the U.S. safer from terrorism.

The President's job approval rating among all Americans is now 49% (44% disapprove), an improvement from mid-October when 44% approved. Among registered voters, his approval rating is more positive -- 51% approve, and 43% disapprove.

Approval ratings on other specific elements of his presidency -- handling the economy, foreign policy and the situation in Iraq -- are more negative than positive. But public approval in one key area, handling terrorism, is strong; 55% approve, and 40% disapprove. Bush has historically received his highest approval ratings on terrorism.

BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS
(All Americans)

Overall
Approve
49%
Disapprove
44%

Foreign policy
Approve
45%
Disapprove
49%

Economy
Approve
43%
Disapprove
51%

Iraq
Approve
45%
Disapprove
50%

Terrorism
Approve
55%
Disapprove
40%

Voters are divided as to the current direction of the country; 47% think it is going in the right direction, but 51% think it is off on the wrong track.

The Bush administration receives poor public ratings from voters on creating jobs and on thinking through what would happen in Iraq as a result of the war, but gets credit for making the U.S. safer from terrorism.

Although voters are critical of the administration's planning for post-war Iraq, they are increasingly likely to view it as part of the war on terrorism, a message that both Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney have been reiterating throughout the campaign.

Registered voters remain divided as to whether taking military action against Iraq was the right course of action, although more think it was right (52%) than think it was a mistake (44%).

More voters now than two weeks ago have accepted the Bush administration's contention that Iraq is an important strategy in the fight against terrorism. 41% now say it is a major part of the war against terrorism, and another 11% say it is a minor part. 43% think Iraq is not part of the fight against terrorism. The percentage that associates Iraq with the fight against terrorism has risen slightly in the past few weeks.

Voters are also slightly more optimistic about how things are going in Iraq than they have been recently. 47% now think things are going well for the U.S. there, while 50% think things are going badly. Two weeks ago, views were more pessimistic.

THE ISSUES: ECONOMIC CONCERNS

47% of voters are concerned that someone in their household may be out of work in the next year; 52% are not concerned. Likely voters who are concerned about a possible job loss are voting for Kerry over Bush by 65% to 29%, while those who are not concerned would vote for Bush over Kerry by 67% to 30%.

32% of voters say their family is financially better off today than four years ago, and 41% say their family's financial situation hasn't changed. Most of these voters are voting for Bush. 26% say their family is now worse off; voters in this group overwhelmingly support Kerry.

THE SOCIAL ISSUES: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Eleven states will have referendums on their ballots this Election Day limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Six in ten voters say they could vote for a candidate who does not share their views on this issue. Just three in ten say they are not flexible.

WOULD YOU EVER VOTE FOR CANDIDATE WHO DOES NOT
SHARE YOUR VIEWS ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE?

(Registered Voters)

Yes, possible
64%
No, not possible
28%

However, those voters who would be motivated by this issue do have a favorite. Likely voters who are not flexible on this issue are voting for Bush over Kerry by 67% to 31%. Kerry leads with voters who would vote for a candidate who disagrees with them 52% to 43%.

Religion matters. 48% of voters who attend religious services every week say they would never vote for a candidate who does not share their views on same-sex marriage, as do 45% of voters who consider themselves evangelical or born again Christians.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats and Independents to say they could never vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on the issue of same-sex marriage, but a majority still says they could. Conservative voters are split: 49% say they could, 44% say they couldn't.

LOOKING AHEAD: THE CANDIDATES' QUALITIES

Just days before the election, voters evaluate Bush more positively than Kerry on many candidate qualities. While two in three voters have at least some confidence that either presidential candidate will protect the U.S. from terrorist attack if elected President, Bush leads Kerry by 16 points on the number of voters who express a lot of confidence in his ability to make the right decision to protect the country from terrorism.

Throughout this campaign, Kerry has trailed Bush on this measure, although he briefly narrowed the gap after the first presidential debate. Two weeks ago, Bush's lead over Kerry on this was 13 points.

Voters view Bush more favorably than Kerry, 48% to 41%. Bush is also seen by more voters than Kerry is as the candidate who has strong qualities of leadership, who says what he believes, and who can deal wisely with an international crisis. These views have changed little in the past two weeks.

Kerry still holds an edge over Bush when it comes to understanding voters' needs and problems as he has always done.

THE CANDIDATES AND THEIR SUPPORTERS

Kerry heads toward Election Day still with only about half of his backers calling themselves strong supporters. But some of his voters have moved from being primarily anti-Bush to being mainly pro-Kerry, even though they still harbor reservations about the Senator.

The President continues to enjoy mostly fervent support from those who've chosen to vote for him.

As the race remains tight, so too the choices among voter groups remain mostly unchanged. Kerry continues to do better among women voters, while Bush does better among men. Bush pulls more Democrats over to his side than Kerry pulls Republicans to his, but Kerry has opened a slightly larger lead among coveted Independent voters and moderates.

However, as close as the election is right now, more believe the incumbent President will win in the end.

WHO DO YOU EXPECT TO WIN?
(Likely voters)

Bush
49%
Kerry
33%

Compared to Bush voters, Kerry voters are less sure that their candidate will win the election. Two-thirds of Kerry voters believe Kerry will capture the presidency, but 84% of Bush voters are confident that their candidate will be reelected.

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

For information on how we define "likely voters," click here.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide sample of 920 adults, interviewed by telephone October 28-30, 2004, including 824 registered voters. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for registered voters and for the total sample. Each registered voter is assigned a probability of voting, which is used to calculate the likely voter results. The sum of these probabilities is the effective number of likely voters. The effective number of likely voters is 643. The margin of error for the number of likely voters could be plus or minus four points.
  • Joel Roberts

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