Poll: Kerry Takes Lead Over Bush

GENERIC George Bush John Kerry Presdential election campaign CBS/AP

CAMPAIGN 2004
The increasingly negative views about Iraq have taken a toll on not just the President's approval ratings, but his standing with registered voters. John Kerry has opened up an eight-point lead over George W. Bush in a head-to-head match-up, giving him the edge in what to date has been a close and volatile race: Bush held a three-point edge in March; Kerry was up two points in April.

KERRY VS. BUSH: CHOICE IN NOVEMBER
(Registered voters)

John Kerry
Now
49%
4/2004
46%
3/2004
43%

George Bush
Now
41%
4/2004
44%
3/2004
46%


Views on Iraq are clearly mirrored in the race: nearly eight in ten voters who think the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq -- including most independents who say this -- are backing John Kerry, while seven in ten of those who say the war was the right thing to do plan to side with Bush in November.

Much of John Kerry's rise in this poll can be attributed to his increased support among independents: this month he holds a 16-point lead among them; last month he led by four points. But the President has also slipped a bit within his own party: this month he collects 84 percent of GOP voters, while last month he got the support of 91 percent of them.

CANDIDATE SUPPORT BY PARTY

John Kerry
Reps
Now
11%
April
7%
Dems
Now
80%
April
80%
Inds
Now
51%
April
43%

George W. Bush
Reps
Now
84%
April
91%
Dems
Now
11%
April
11%
Inds
Now
35%
April
39%

There are sharp differences in the makeup of each candidate's support, reflecting the fact that this election is becoming a clear referendum on the incumbent and that the challenger is less well known. While 29 percent of Kerry's backers strongly favor him, more than one-third of them support Kerry mainly because they dislike George W. Bush. Most of Bush's backers support him because they favor him.

SUPPORT CANDIDATE BECAUSE…
(Registered voters)

Strongly favor candidate
Bush voters
57%
Kerry voters
29%

Support with reservations
Bush voters
36%
Kerry voters
35%

Dislike other candidates
Bush voters
6%
Kerry voters
34%

WHO CAN DO BETTER?
While many Americans express concern about the state of affairs in Iraq, neither candidate has yet convinced voters that the situation in Iraq would improve if they were to win in November.

IF ELECTED, THE SITUATION IN IRAQ WILL…
(Registered Voters)

Get better
Bush
27%
Kerry
32%

Get worse
Bush
33%
Kerry
24%

Stay the same
Bush
37%
Kerry
35%

Overall, Kerry does marginally better than Bush on this question, but those backing Bush do not believe Kerry would improve things, and vice-versa. About a third of voters think that the situation in Iraq will stay the same or get worse if either Kerry or Bush is elected.

Meanwhile, as gas prices rise at home -- and most Americans say they've been affected by the higher costs -- voters see John Kerry as somewhat better able to put the brakes on price increases. 30 percent of voters think prices will continue to rise if Bush is re-elected, while just 13 percent say those increases will happen if Kerry wins. 14 percent say a second Bush term will mean lower prices, compared to 21 percent who say a Kerry win would ease pain at the pump.

However, half say gas prices will stay the same or go up regardless of whether Kerry or Bush wins.

IF ELECTED, GAS PRICES WILL…
(Registered Voters)

Go up
Bush
30%
Kerry
13%

Go down
Bush
14%
Kerry
21%

Stay the same
Bush
46%
Kerry
51%


Most -- 58 percent -- say that a President generally does have the power to influence gas prices. 3 percent say gas prices are beyond a president's control.

Both Iraq and the economy rate as the main topics voters want the candidates to discuss; Iraq jumped up sharply in mentions in April and is now mentioned by 26 percent. As recently as March, the economy alone dominated the list of issues.


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

War in Iraq
Now
26%
4/2004
21%
3/2004
11%

Economy and jobs
Now
25%
4/2004
25%
3/2004
31%

Health care/Medicare
Now
8%
4/2004
8%
3/2004
10%

Education
Now
4%
4/2004
5%
3/2004
4%

Gas prices
Now
4%
4/2004
1%
3/2004
1%


EVALUATING THE CANDIDATES
Bush and Kerry are each viewed favorably by about one-third of voters, but George W. Bush's unfavorable ratings have risen a bit in the last month, up to 47 percent today from 43 percent in April, while Kerry's have held at about one-third. Kerry remains unknown to more than one-third of the electorate, but favorable ratings of him have increased in the last month, perhaps helped by the latest Kerry ad campaign.

OPINIONS OF THE CANDIDATES
(Registered Voters)

Favorable

Bush
Now
36%
Last month
38%
Kerry
Now
32%
Last month
27%

Unfavorable
Bush
Now
47%
Last month
43%
Kerry
Now
32%
Last month
33%

Undecided/unknown
Bush
Now
16%
Last month
19%
Kerry
Now
35%
Last month
40%


Half of Americans now say that the President says what he believes, instead of just saying what people want to hear. Most Americans continue to believe that their President shares their moral values, though this sentiment has dropped over the past two months. But only four in ten voters say the President shares their priorities. A majority says he does not.

EVALUATIONS OF GEORGE W. BUSH
(Registered Voters)

Shares moral values
Now
62%
Last month
68%
3/2004
75%
Does not
Now
30%
Last month
25%
3/2004
21%

Says what he believes
Now
50%
Last month
53%
3/2004
52%
Says what people want to hear
Now
45%
Last month
43%
3/2004
43%

Shares your priorities
Now
41%
Last month
42%
3/2004
45%
Does not
Now
55%
Last month
55%
3/2004
52%

Slightly more Americans now than last month say Kerry shares their priorities: 43 percent do, while about the same number says he does not. But Kerry is still seen as not saying what he believes: just 33 percent of voters think he does, while a majority -- 58 percent -- think Kerry mostly says what people want to hear.

EVALUATIONS OF JOHN KERRY
(Registered Voters)

Shares moral values
Now
59%
Last month
58%
3/2004
62%
Does not
Now
25%
Last month
23%
3/2004
23%

Says what he believes
Now
33%
Last month
29%
3/2004
29%
Says what people want to hear
Now
58%
Last month
61%
3/2004
54%

Shares your priorities
Now
43%
Last month
37%
3/2004
41%
Does not
Now
40%
Last month
45%
3/2004
43%


Most voters continue to pay attention to the campaign, with more than eight in ten paying at least some attention.

THE NADER FACTOR
With many Democrats fearing that Nader's candidacy could siphon some of Kerry's support, last week John Kerry met with consumer advocate and independent Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. In this poll, with Nader added to the list of choices, Kerry's edge does indeed shrink: Kerry gets 47 percent of the vote to Bush's 41 percent and Nader nets 5 percent.

KERRY VS. BUSH VS. NADER: CHOICE IN NOVEMBER
(Registered Voters)

Kerry
Now
47%
4/2004
41%

Bush
41%
4/2004
43%

Nader
Now
5%
4/2004
5%

THE ECONOMY
More Americans say the economy is good than bad, but the public's outlook for the economy is not very optimistic. Americans' perceptions of the country's economy are similar to what they were last month. 52 percent think the economy is in good shape, while 47 percent think it is in bad shape.

THE ECONOMY IS …

Good
Now
52%
4/2004
55%

Bad
Now
47%
4/2004
45%

But looking forward, just 23 percent (down from 30 percent last month) say the economy is getting better and 32 percent (up from 26 percent last month) say it is getting worse. 43 percent think it is staying the same.


FUTURE OF THE ECONOMY

Getting better
Now
23%
Last month
30%

Getting worse
Now
32%
Last month
26%

The same
Now
43%
Last month
44%


Little good economic news has been heard by the public, despite the up-tick in job growth in March and April. Nearly half continue to say the Administration's policies have decreased the number of jobs in the U.S. 20 percent now say those policies have increased the number of jobs, up six points since March. A quarter thinks this Administration's policies have had no effect on the number of jobs.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S POLICIES HAVE …

Increased jobs
Now
20%
3/2004
14%

Decreased jobs
Now
49%
3/2004
47%

No effect
Now
25%
3/2004
27%

Many Americans remain concerned that they or someone in their household may lose their job over the next year. 60 percent are very or somewhat concerned, while 40 percent are not at all concerned about losing their job.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,113 adults interviewed by telephone May 20-23, 2004. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The error for subgroups may be higher.

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

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

Comments