Poll: One Year Until The Election

Campaign buttons for both parties, over the capitol and money. AP / CBS

Many voters have not made up their minds yet whom to vote for in next year's presidential election, and many still cannot name any of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination. However, when they do look ahead, voters are closely divided on their 2004 electoral preference.

When offered a choice between Bush or an unnamed Democratic candidate, 41% of registered voters choose Bush, and 43% say they will cast their ballot for the Democrat.

Although George W. Bush held a lead among registered voters asked this question last month, earlier this fall voters were also closely divided.

In this poll, half the respondents were offered a choice between George W. Bush and an unnamed Democrat, and the other half was offered the same choice but with an explicit "don't know yet" option. The results are somewhat different when voters are offered a choice among Bush, the (still unnamed) Democratic candidate, and a "don't know" option. In that scenario, Bush is slightly ahead: 30% of voters say that they would vote for George W. Bush in 2004, 24% would vote for the Democratic candidate, but even more -- 42% -- are not yet sure. These results are not much different from last month.

Either way, American voters are split on what they might do in 2004. But partisan loyalties are certainly in evidence, though more so among Republicans than Democrats. Over six in ten Republican voters say they would cast their ballot to re-elect the president, and 33% aren't yet sure. 48% of Democratic voters support their party's candidate, but 43% of them aren't sure yet who they would vote for. Independents are divided; 23% support Bush, 20% would vote for the Democrat, but 49% aren't sure yet.

Right now, months before a prospective nominee can win the delegates needed to become the party's nominee, Democrats have yet to consolidate support among some of their traditional voting blocs. Union households are somewhat divided in their vote, and 46% haven't decided whom to vote for. The Catholic vote is also divided between Bush and the Democrat, with 41% undecided.

RATING THE PARTIES

Heading into the 2004 campaigns, the two major parties enjoy distinct strengths among voters. Republicans are seen as more likely to share voters' moral values, prevent terrorism, and make the right decisions on gun control. Democrats have the advantage on strengthening the economy and creating jobs, as well as caring more about voters.

Democratic hopes of winning the White House in 2004 may rest on the party's ability to win back some states in the south and mid-west, where most states for George W. Bush in 2000. Especially critical is their ability to win a greater share among whites, and especially suburban and rural white men there – some of the so-called "NASCAR voters."

Recent elections confirm the uphill battle that Democratic candidates face for the votes of white men: in the 2000 Election, George W. Bush carried the nationwide white male vote by 60% to 36% over Al Gore, and Bush won that vote by an even greater 70% to 27% margin in the South. And in the just-conducted race for Governor of Mississippi, the Democrat Ronnie Musgrove received only 21% of the vote among white men; 78% of this group voted for Republican Haley Barbour.

Currently the South and Midwest – and especially white male voters there -- are still Bush Country. Voters in these regions are more approving of the President's job performance than voters in the nation as a whole. The President gets a 58% overall job rating in the South and a 54% rating in the Midwest versus a 50% rating in the nation overall.

White voters, particularly whites in the South and Midwest regions, are even more likely to approve of the President.

And white men in these regions, as well as all white men nationwide, are especially strong supporters of President Bush. In the South, two-thirds approve of his performance and in the Midwest, the President has a 73% approval rating among white male voters.

There are many reasons for the regional differences. One reason may be the opinion of Bush as an individual: compared to white voters in other regions, white voters in the South are more likely to say Bush has more integrity than most people in public life; half say he does. White voters in the South are also the most likely to say that the results of the Iraq war have been worth the costs: over half of them say so, while less than half of whites in every other region agree. White voters in the South are also more likely to be Republicans.

But another difference is in the region's acceptance (like the President's) of a role for religion in political life. Those views on the role of religion in government separate voters in the South and Midwest from those in the East and West – the red states and the blue states in the 2000 Presidential election. 57% of voters in the South and Midwest say that they're worried when political officials don't pay enough attention to religion and religious leaders; only 29% worry when public officials are too close to religious leaders. In the East and West, the sentiments are split: 41% are worried officials don't pay enough attention, and 41% worry they're too close.

The regions are also split over a social issue that may well be debated in the 2004 campaign: whether or not to permit same-sex couples to form civil unions. In the South and Midwest, voters are opposed to this idea by a 61% to 31% margin; in the East and West, voters favor the idea by a 48% to 42% edge.

PARTY VIEWS AND THE "NASCAR" VOTE

To win next November, Democrats must make inroads into these regions. Some strategists and analysts have focused on Democrats' prospects of winning more of the suburban and rural white males who have increasingly voted Republican in recent elections. They say that these voters (labeled by some the "NASCAR" voters) might be up for grabs if a sagging economy makes them receptive to economic appeals from Democrats.

White voters in the South and Mid-west see the GOP as better able to keep the U.S. safe from terrorism by a wide 50% to 17% margin. They believe Republicans share their moral values, and will make the right decisions on gun control, but they believe the Democrats are better able to build a strong economy.

Yet in what may be discouraging news for Democrats who might try to woo them next year, white suburban and rural men in the South and Midwest believe not only that the Republican party cares more about people like them, but also that the GOP is also better able to create jobs and a strong economy.

There is a significant overall edge in party identification for the GOP among white voters in these regions, and white men call themselves Republican by an even greater margin than white voters in the region as a whole. Non-urban white men call themselves Republicans by a wide 42%-22% edge.

Non-urban white men in the South and Midwest are about as likely as all Americans to have lost a job in the last year, and are more likely to say the national economy is in good shape. They are more apt to favor smaller government with fewer services over larger government with more services.

They are more likely to be gun owners, and they are much less likely than the rest of the nation to think gun control laws should be stricter: only 33% say this, while more than half of voters nationwide favor generally stricter laws.

These voters are more likely to say the U.S. should stay in Iraq as long as it takes to ensure stability there. And they're much more likely to be fans of NASCAR.

THE DEMOCRATS

There is still no clear national frontrunner among the Democratic candidates. Among registered voters who say they will vote in a Democratic primary or caucus, Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt receive the most support, with 14% and 12% respectively. Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark are tied for second place, closely followed by John Kerry.

But it is still early in the nomination process, and only one in five registered voters (and 23% of Democratic primary voters) are paying a lot of attention to the campaign yet; four in ten are paying some attention. This is about the same level of attention voters were paying in September. Nearly half of all voters -- 48% -- can name a Democratic candidate -- more than could do so in August – but half still can't name one. 45% of Democratic primary voters can't name any of their party's candidates running for president.

Among voters of all political persuasions, Howard Dean is the name most commonly volunteered, followed by John Kerry, Wesley Clark and Richard Gephardt. Among Democratic primary voters, Howard Dean is also number one, followed by John Kerry and Wesley Clark, who are tied for second place.

WHAT DO DEMOCRATS WANT?

There is no consensus on the positions Democratic primary voters would like their ideal candidate to take -- but most Democrats would prefer a Democratic nominee who will agree with their positions rather than a nominee who can win in November, by 66% to 26%.

46% want the nominee to support more restrictions on trade between the U.S. and other countries, while 24% prefer the nominee support freer trade. And while one in three would prefer their candidate oppose the war in Iraq, one in five would prefer he or she support it. Even more, however, 44% say the nominee's position on Iraq doesn't matter to them.

Most say it doesn't matter whether the nominee has served in the military.

AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTERS

African Americans are a key Democratic voting group -- 72% of black registered voters identify themselves as Democrats, and according to exit polls nine in ten blacks voted for Al Gore in 2000. This CBS News Poll demonstrates their strong allegiance to that party.

By large margins, black voters think the Democratic party would do a better job than the Republican party on every item measured, including creating jobs, strengthening the economy, preventing terrorism and making decisions on gun control. The Democratic Party is also viewed as caring more about them and sharing their moral values.

Economic concerns are magnified among this group. 30% of them say they or someone in their household has lost a job in the past year, and three in four say the economy is poor.

They also hold strong views on some social issues. 78% of black voters want stricter gun control laws, and 59% oppose civil unions for same sex partners. 51% say that religion is extremely important to them, and an additional 40% say it is very important; 59% are worried public officials do not pay enough attention to religion.

Few black voters approve of the job Bush is doing as president, and only 32% think he shares their moral values. Over eight in ten disapprove of how the president is handling the situation with Iraq, and 67% want the U.S. to turn over control of Iraq to Iraqis as soon as possible.

Americans are divided on whether Bush or members of his Administration are really in charge of running the government. 46% say Bush is in charge, but 46% say others are really running the government. In January 2003, Bush's image as a leader was more positive. 53% said he was in charge of running the government.

Bush gets high marks on more personal characteristics. Nearly three-quarters (72%) say the President shares the moral values most Americans try to live by; just 23% think he does not share these values. Even 52% of Democrats say Bush possesses the moral values most Americans try to live by.

46% of Americans approve of the job Dick Cheney is doing as Vice President, a drop of ten points since August 2002. 28% now disapprove of the job he is doing but a sizeable number cannot rate Cheney's job performance – something that has been the case since Cheney took office in January 2001.

Not surprisingly, views of the Vice President differ by party identification. 68% of Republicans approve of the job Cheney is doing as Vice President, compared to just 29% of Democrats. Still, one in five Republicans did not rate his job performance.

While some have been critical of Cheney's close ties to the energy industry, nearly half of Americans (47%) think Cheney has the same amount of honesty and integrity as most people in public life. 17% say he has more integrity than most public officials and slightly more – 22% - say he has less. Views of the Vice President's honesty are not quite as positive as those of his boss; 32% think Bush has more honesty than most people in public life, compared to 17% for Cheney.

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


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,177 adults interviewed by telephone November 10-13, 2003. The sample included an oversample of people living in the South. When combined with the total sample, those interviews were weighted to reflect their proper proportion nationally. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample. The margin of error for subgroups is higher.
  • Joel Roberts

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