CBS Poll: Bush 47, Kerry 46

GENERIC President Bush and John Kerry over the presidential seal
By Jarrett Murphy, producer
John Kerry sat within one point of President Bush in the latest CBS News poll released Monday, as support for the president appeared slip slightly.

The new poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday, gave the president a 47-46 percent lead among likely voters. The poll surveyed 1,345 people and among likely voters carried a three-point margin of error.

That represented a slight narrowing of the gap from Mr. Bush's 49-46 percent lead in a CBS News/New York Times poll reported Sunday based on interviews Thursday through Saturday. That poll talked to 920 people and there was a four-point margin of error for likely voters.
Independent candidate Ralph Nader gets 1 percent in both polls.

Statistically, however, nothing really changed. The candidates were still with the margin of error and — as in other polls out Monday — the race was too close to call just hours before Americans cast their ballots in the country's 55th presidential election.

And there was no indication that Osama bin Laden's videotaped message to the American people last Friday has made a measurable impact on the race.

The shift from one poll to the next seems to indicate that respondents telephoned more recently were more undecided on the race. Such fluidity is not unprecedented in the final days of a tight race. It does not necessarily reflect any move toward Kerry — his poll number has not moved.

But beyond the horse race, responses in the more recent poll showed a hair's-breadth improvement for the Massachusetts senator on his perceived leadership qualities and ability to fight terrorism. The later polling took place after the emergence of Osama bin Laden's latest videotaped message.

Asked if a candidate had "strong qualities of leadership," 52 percent of registered voters polled Thursday through Sunday said "yes" for Kerry. That number rose to 54 percent among registered voters in a second group reached Saturday to Sunday. Over the same period, Mr. Bush's number slipped from 62 percent to 58 percent.

Respondents were also asked if a candidate could protect the country from a terrorist attack. Over the Thursday to Saturday polling period, 62 percent said Kerry could protect the country "a lot" or "some." Seventy percent said Mr. Bush could protect them "a lot" or "some."

On Saturday and Sunday, Kerry's number held steady. Mr. Bush' dropped to 64 percent.

Other national polls were mixed. A Fox News survey of likely voters released Monday had Kerry ahead 48-46 percent. Reuters/Zogby had Mr. Bush up 48-47 percent. CNN/USA Today/Gallup showed a tie at 49 percent.

A senior Bush adviser said that campaign's internal polls showed no movement to Kerry over the weekend. On Sunday, the campaign indicated that the poll showing Mr. Bush up by three points mirrored their internal surveys.

A senior Kerry adviser said in an e-mail response, "We believe we are slightly ahead."

The CBS News results imply that the undecided pool has grown from 4 percent to 6 percent. If that accurately depicts a momentary increase in the number of undecided voters, it would the latest twist in the 2004 race.

In the campaign's final days, the parties were focusing on their "get out the vote" efforts to target their respective bases, rather than focusing on the small number of undecided voters.

Both turnout and undecideds will loom large on Election Day. Recent polls have often shown Kerry leading among registered voters even as he trailed the president in the narrower pool of likely voters.

The campaigns disagree on which way undecided voters will break. Bush pollster Matthew Dowd said undecideds at worst would split their votes between the two parties and may even be "slightly breaking towards us." But Democrats, citing history, said undecided voters would support the challenger, not the incumbent.

By Jarrett Murphy