Poll: Kerry Set For Super Tuesday

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., throws a football while his campaign plane, enroute from Oakland to New York, was being refueled in Indianapolis, Ind., Saturday Feb. 28, 2004. AP

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry holds a wide lead over North Carolina Senator John Edwards as the choice of Democratic voters both nationwide and in the ten states that vote on Tuesday.

That lead for the nomination is especially strong among those Democrats to whom beating incumbent President George W. Bush is more important than agreement on the issues. This CBS News Poll indicates that while both Kerry and Edwards would run even with the President in the fall, a ticket of Kerry and Edwards might do even better.

Both Kerry and Edwards have gained in public favorability since the Democratic campaign began. More Americans hold favorable views of both men than have unfavorable ones. Meanwhile, perceptions of the President have slipped since last year. His approval rating has fallen below 50% for the first time in this poll: 47% of Americans now approve of the way the President is handling his job, while 44% disapprove. Americans continue to express doubts about the current situation in Iraq, and point to the economy and jobs as the issue that they are most concerned about.


BUSH OVERALL JOB APPROVAL

(Registered voters)

Approve
47%
Disapprove
44%

THE RACE FOR THE NOMINATION

Voters in the "Super Tuesday" primary states – like Democratic primary voters nationwide – choose John Kerry over John Edwards for the party's nomination by wide margins.

CHOICE FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE (Primary voters)

John Kerry
57%
John Edwards
18%
Al Sharpton
4%
Dennis Kucinich
1%
Don't Know
12%

CHOICE FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE (Super Tuesday voters)

John Kerry
61%
John Edwards
15%
Al Sharpton
0%
Dennis Kucinich
3%
Don't Know
12%

Half of Tuesday's voters say they've made up their minds and half say it is still too soon to be certain of their choice.

Just over half of Democratic primary voters say they are looking for a nominee who is compatible on the issues but many – 38% in this poll - are looking primarily for someone who can win in November.

Concerns about electability help Kerry, who has already won all but two of the state contests so far in the nominating process. Those voters looking mainly for a November victory think John Kerry can deliver it: nearly three-quarters of those putting electability ahead of issues back the Massachusetts Senator.

Democratic voters are happy with the two remaining leading candidates: most would be generally satisfied if either won the nomination. In fact, most of today's Edwards backers would be satisfied if Kerry wins, and most Kerry backers would be satisfied with Edwards atop the ticket. A Kerry nomination, however, makes more Democrats very satisfied.

And in a sign of how much the Democratic race has changed since the first weeks of the year, one-third of Super Tuesday voters say that they are former Howard Dean supporters. Today, most of those voters back John Kerry.

A DIVIDING ISSUE: TRADE

One of the few issues on which the Democrats disagree is trade: Edwards and Kerry face a Super Tuesday electorate that favors Kerry overall but agrees more with Edwards. Many Super Tuesday voters are looking for more restrictions on trade. 38% want a nominee who would back more restrictions, while 26% want a nominee who would lower restrictions. Only about one-quarter say this issue doesn't matter to them – suggesting that the issue could resonate on Tuesday as it has with other primary voters nationwide.

KERRY AND EDWARDS: IMPROVING VIEWS

America's voters have become much more familiar with the leading candidates since the start of the year: in January two-thirds could not offer any opinion of Kerry but today only 35% cannot. Twice as many now as in January hold an opinion of the less well-known Edwards.

Nearly six in ten primary voters nationwide view Kerry favorably and only a third has no opinion of him. 36% view Edwards favorably and less than one in ten holds a negative view of him, but the North Carolina Senator's name still elicits no opinion from more than half of Democratic primary voters.

THE FALL ELECTION

If the November election were being held today, President George W. Bush might lose his bid for re-election to an unnamed Democratic nominee. 48% say they would vote for the Democratic candidate, and 43% would support George W. Bush. In December, a CBS News poll showed Bush ahead of an unnamed Democrat by nine points.

More than four in five Democrats and Republicans would support their party's candidate. At this point, Independents divide marginally for the Democrat over Bush by 43% to 41%. Overall, 70% of voters say they are committed to their fall vote, but just 60% of Independents say their mind is made up.

When specific Democratic candidates are mentioned opposite George Bush, the race becomes much closer; both John Edwards and John Kerry run about even with Bush.

NOVEMBER 2004 VOTE (Registered voters)

George W. Bush
46%
John Kerry
47%

George W. Bush
45%
John Edwards
45%

But a Democratic ticket that combines the two candidates -- John Kerry for President and John Edwards for Vice President -- has more appeal, and could give the two Democrats a solid victory over Bush and Dick Cheney. Currently, registered voters would choose a Kerry-Edwards ticket over a Bush-Cheney ticket by 50% to 42%. Whether that difference is due more to the appeal of Kerry and Edwards together or suggests weak voter support for Vice President Cheney can't be determined in this poll.

NOVEMBER 2004 VOTE (Registered voters)

George W. Bush & Dick Cheney
42%
John Kerry & John Edwards
50%

The combination of the two Democrats (Kerry for President and Edwards for Vice President) gives the Democrats an edge among a number of voting groups that either candidate might otherwise lose on his own. While both Edwards and Kerry would separately lose to Bush among Independents, the combined ticket gives them a small 3 percentage point edge over Bush-Cheney.

Both men and women would choose the Kerry-Edwards ticket over the Bush-Cheney ticket -- men by a seven point margin, and women by an eight point margin. By himself, Edwards loses to Bush among men and has a small lead among women; Kerry runs about even with Bush among men and has a four point lead among women.

Voters' still expect a Bush win in November, although that view is less pervasive than it was in early January. Now, 49% expect Bush to win, and 42% foresee a Democrat winning the presidency. In January, 55% expected the president to be re-elected, and just 31% thought the Democratic candidate could prevail.

KERRY, EDWARDS AND BUSH

Perceptions of the three major candidates for President -- George W. Bush on the Republican side, and John Kerry and John Edwards on the Democratic side – suggest differing strengths and weaknesses for each.
About half of voters are confident in Bush's ability to handle an international crisis, but about as many are uneasy. Opinions about John Kerry on this measure are similar; 41% are confident, but about the same number are uneasy. Far fewer have confidence in John Edwards on this measure, but over a third don't know enough to rate him.

Over half of voters think many of the decisions Bush makes are influenced by special interests; 32% think that is not the case. Far fewer -- 38% -- think Kerry is influenced by special interests, but almost as many think he is, and another 31% don't know. On this issue, Edwards is even more unknown; 25% think he makes decisions based on special interests, 31% think he doesn't, but 44% don't know.

More voters believe each of the two Democratic candidates cares about them than believe Bush does.

THE NADER CANDIDACY

Ralph Nader announced his intention to run for the presidency last weekend, but by a three to one margin, voters have a negative impression of Nader rather than a positive one. In October 2000, as many voters held positive views of Nader as held negative ones. Negative views of Nader exist among voters of all political persuasions, although they are less severe among Independents. Despite his candidacy in 2000, 44% of voters don't know enough about him to have an opinion.

GEORGE W. BUSH

George W. Bush's overall job approval rating, which has slipped since the start of the Democratic primaries, is now at its lowest level since he took office in 2001. 47% of Americans approve of the overall job George W. Bush is doing as president, while 44% disapprove. One year ago, just weeks before the start of the war in Iraq, 56% approved of the job President Bush was doing. Bush's highest job approval rating came in October 2001, when 90% approved of the job he was doing as president.

BUSH OVERALL JOB APPROVAL (Registered voters)

Now
Approve
47%
Disapprove
44%

1/2004
Approve
50%
Disapprove
45%

2/2003
Approve
56%
Disapprove
35%

10/2001
Approve
90
Disapprove
5%

Over the past month the President's approval rating has slipped among white Americans, those under age 44 and women. Bush's job approval rating now is similar among men and women. African-Americans have always given this President low marks, and in this poll 21% approve of the job he is doing. There are large differences in Bush's job approval by ideology; conservatives give him high marks, while under half of moderates and a quarter of liberals approve.

Other evaluations of the president are at or near their lowest level ever. While a majority of Americans still approves of Bush's handling of the campaign against terrorism, less than a majority now approves of his handling of foreign policy in general, Iraq, and the economy.

Just 44% now approve of Bush's handling of foreign policy, while 45% disapprove. This matches the president's lowest approval rating on foreign policy since taking office, which he received in September 2003. 45% approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, while 47% disapprove.

The economy continues to be the area where Bush is weakest. Only 37% approve of his handling of the economy, and 56% disapprove. In January, 44% approved of Bush's handling of the economy. Only once before, in August 2003, was the President's rating on the economy lower than it is now.

The decline in Bush's rating on the economy may be tied to the public's slightly more negative view of the economy now than in January. Americans are split: 49% say the economy is in good shape, while 49% say it is bad. In January, 54% said the economy was in good shape.

While more people disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy than approve, his ratings are not nearly as low as those received by his father, George H.W. Bush, at this point in his presidency. In February 1992, 74% of Americans disapproved of then-President Bush's handling of the economy; less than one in five approved.

In this election year, the economy and jobs continues to be the top issue on the minds of voters. 25% of voters say this is the one issue they would most like to hear the presidential candidates discuss. It is followed by the war and foreign policy issues and healthcare or Medicare issues, both named by 13%. 5% of voters name Social Security. 4% of voters volunteer gay marriage as the issue they want to hear the candidates discuss.

Recent White House projections have suggested that millions of new jobs will be created this year, but Americans do not think the Bush Administration has made progress in the area of job creation. More than half say the policies of the administration have decreased the number of jobs in the U.S., a quarter say their policies have had no impact, and only 14% say the policies of the Bush administration have increased the number of jobs.

THE WAR IN IRAQ AND THE WEAPONS HUNT

At 46%, the President's approval rating on handling Iraq is just one point above his lowest mark in this area, 45%, which he received last December just before Saddam Hussein's capture.

A majority of Americans continues to believe the Bush Administration exaggerated the intelligence it received about weapons of mass destruction to build support for the war. 59% say the administration exaggerated intelligence findings, while a third (32%) thinks the Administration interpreted the intelligence information accurately.

Even though Americans think the administration exaggerated intelligence to build support for the war, many believe there are still weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 52% think Iraq probably does have weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. hasn't found yet. 39% believe Iraq does not have such weapons. Belief there are weapons in Iraq has dropped since the end of major combat.

Americans continue to doubt whether the outcome of the war was worth the costs. 52% say the war was not worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq, while 42% say it was worth it.

Thinking back, more Americans now say Iraq was a threat that could have been contained than one that needed immediate military action. 46% say Iraq was threat that could have been contained, and 40% say Iraq was a threat that required immediate military action. 12% say Iraq was not a threat at all.

Nevertheless, 54% still say the U.S. did the right thing in going to war with Iraq. However, this number is now the lowest on this question since CBS News starting asking it last March, as the war got underway.

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


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,545 adults, interviewed by telephone February 24-27, 2004. An oversample of 601 residents in the ten states holding primaries or caucuses on March 2 was conducted, for a total of 894 interviews in those states. 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.
  • Lauren Johnston

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