Kerry and Edwards now hold a six-point lead over the Republican incumbents, 49% to 43%.
KERRY-EDWARDS VS. BUSH-CHENEY: CHOICE IN NOVEMBER
There continue to be few voters who are truly undecided. And just under one in five voters with a choice say their minds could change. Nearly nine in ten of each party's identifiers say they will support their party's nominee – with Independents making up the difference, and giving Kerry-Edwards a double-digit lead.
Kerry also benefits from a sizable gender gap. Women give the Democratic ticket a 13-point lead, while men are evenly divided.
The convention's focus on Kerry's war record appears to have given the Democrats a boost with veterans. For the first time this year, the Democrats run even with their opponents among veterans. The Republicans had been holding a consistent (though shrinking) lead with military veterans before the Democratic convention.
Including Ralph Nader changes the results little. 48% of voters support Kerry, 43% support Bush, and Nader receives 3% of the vote.
Historically, it's the challenger who is expected to get the largest boost from their party's convention. The convention of the party not in the White House comes first, and traditionally, challenging candidates need both to solidify support within their own party and to reach out to independent voters. Bill Clinton received a 13-point boost in 1992. But that convention occurred in a two-week period where Clinton named Al Gore as his running mate, and Ross Perot, an independent who led some pre-convention polls, dropped out of the race.
This year, there has been much talk of the large number of voters who made their minds up early. More importantly, Democrats were exceptionally unified going in to the convention, and the party had already received a small boost from the naming of Edwards in early July. Even pre-convention, Kerry's support was higher than Al Gore's was when Gore left his convention in 2000.
Despite limited television coverage, the percentage who report they watched Kerry's acceptance speech was higher than for Al Gore's speech four years ago. As is typical, Democrats were more likely to be watching their party's convention than were Republicans. Three in four registered voters said they watched part of all of the convention, and 68% of those viewers saw Kerry's speech.
This is more than said they watched the Democratic convention four years ago – in 2000, 66% said they had watched. In 2000, just 52% of convention watchers specifically watched Gore's address.
Today nearly half of all voters say they are paying a lot of attention to the race -- a dramatic difference from the summer of 2000 when, following that year's first convention (which was held by the GOP), only 30% said they were paying a lot of attention. Interest in 2000 did not approach the current level until October. Similarly, in early August of 1996, only 30% said they were paying a lot of attention to that year's contest.
Several speakers at the convention described the coming election as "the most important in our lifetime." Many voters may agree. Voters see this election as more important than Presidential contests of years past. Today three-quarters of voters think this election is more important than those of other years.
COMPARED TO PAST ELECTIONS, THE 2004 DECISION IS…
The same importance
However, voters frequently feel this way about an upcoming election. In 1992, the only other year CBS News asked this question, the public's responses were about the same.
Most of those who watched the convention do not feel it changed their view of John Kerry, yet for those whose opinions were swayed, impressions were positive. Over one-third say they left with a higher opinion of John Kerry, and just 11% say that what they saw lowered their opinion of the nominee.
By this measure, Kerry's convention appearance had more impact than Al Gore had at the 2000 convention in Los Angeles. Then, 30% said that watching the proceedings had improved their view of Al Gore, and 62% said it had not changed their views of the then-Vice-President.
One goal of the convention was to convince voters that Kerry would unite the country and to taint Bush has someone who has divided it. He appears, so far, to have succeeded in convincing voters of that.
53% of voters view Kerry as someone who will bring Americans together; 29% say he will divide them. On the other hand, 55% of voters say Bush's presidency has divided Americans, whereas just 31% say he as has brought different groups of Americans.
John Kerry also bolstered his support, dispelling some reservations his supporters had held. 47% of Kerry's supporters are with him now because they strongly favor him, up from 41% pre-convention, and 23% now have reservations about him, down from 31% who did before. However, to many of his backers – more than one in four – Kerry's appeal is still mainly that he is an alternative to George W. Bush.
As for the party, Democrats succeeded in convincing a plurality of voters that the party has a clear plan for the country. Today 44% of voters say the party has one, up from 36% before the delegates gathered in Boston. CBS News began asking the question before the 2002 midterm elections, and more voters than ever now say the Democrats have a clear plan; in October of 2002 just 31% of voters saw a clear agenda from the Democrats.
On this measure Democrats have eliminated the gap between themselves and the GOP – who have the advantage of having a sitting President to make their case with regularity. 45% say the Republicans have a clear plan for the nation.
THE CONVENTION AND ASSESSMENTS OF THE CANDIDATES
For many voters, the Democratic convention in Boston may have been the first time they had seen or heard John Kerry for an extended period of time. The convention did affect opinions of Kerry the candidate. More voters now see Kerry as someone who shares their priorities than did so before the convention. More now than in June say Kerry cares about people like themselves. Kerry has an edge over President Bush on both these evaluations.
Many speakers at last week's convention portrayed Kerry as a strong leader, and Kerry runs even with Bush on this question. Although he has not gained on this measure, perceptions of Bush as a leader have declined since March.
However, Kerry was unable to alter the perception that he may be somewhat of a panderer. Just a third think Kerry says what he believes, unchanged from June. Bush still has an advantage over Kerry on this measure, but the number who think Bush says what he believes has dropped 10 points since June. Now, 48% of voters think Bush says what he believes, down from 58% two months ago.
Honesty and Likeability
The candidates look similar when it comes to having more honesty and integrity than most people in public life. About four in ten say each does -- but that represents a decrease for Bush since June. More think Bush has less honesty than say that about Kerry.
HONESTY AND INTEGRITY COMPARED TO OTHERS IN PUBLIC LIFE
More honesty and integrity
More honesty and integrity
Little has changed since the spring regarding how voters feel about the candidates personally. 52% say they think of Kerry as someone they would like personally. Back in April, 48% said they thought they would. 53% say that Bush is someone they would like personally, compared to 57% who said so in April.
DO YOU THINK OF … AS SOMEONE YOU WOULD LIKE PERSONALLY?
Kerry attempted to convince voters in his acceptance speech last week that he is capable of leading this country during times of crisis. While the number of voters who say they are confident in Kerry's ability to handle an international crisis has risen since June, more voters still say they are uneasy than confident about his approach. 39% are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis, but half are uneasy about his approach.
However, Bush's ratings on handling an international crisis are the same as they were in June, and much like Kerry's. 43% are confident that Bush has the ability to handle such a crisis, and 55% are uneasy about his approach.
While a majority of voters say they have confidence that both Bush and Kerry will make the right decisions when it comes to protecting the country from a terrorist attack, Bush continues to have an edge. 41% of voters say they have "a lot" of confidence that Bush would make the right decisions on terrorism, compared to 28% who say they have "a lot" of confidence in Kerry on this matter.
OVERALL OPINIONS OF KERRY AND BUSH
39% of voters now say they have a favorable opinion of Kerry, up slightly from a few weeks ago and his highest favorable rating since the CBS News Poll starting asking about Kerry in August 2003. 33%, however, have an unfavorable opinion of Kerry. A quarter still is unable to offer an opinion of him.
OPINION OF KERRY
Opinions of Bush are similar to what they were three weeks ago. 40% have a favorable view of Bush, while 43% view him unfavorably.
OPINION OF BUSH
Among voters who watched last week's Democratic Convention, opinions of Kerry are more positive. 46% of voters who watched the convention view Kerry favorably, while 31% view him unfavorably. 40% of voters who did not watch the convention have an unfavorable opinion of Kerry.
TWO MAJOR ISSUES: THE ECONOMY AND IRAQ
Assessments of the economy continue to improve, but concerns about Iraq remain high. More voters now than in June find their financial situations have improved; 24% say they are better off now than they were four years ago. But slightly more -- 28% -- say they are worse off, and a plurality -- 46% -- are doing about the same.
In the past, fewer reported they were better off since Bush took office.
Perceptions of an improving economy continue. 55% of Americans (and 58% of registered voters) think the economy is in good shape, while 43% think it is bad. As recently as March, Americans were evenly divided.
But Bush may not receive a lot of the credit for an improved economy and personal finances. The President continues to receive a low job approval rating on his handling of the economy (39%). Far more -- 54% -- disapprove.
Handling terrorism remains the President's most positive evaluation; more than half of Americans approve of the job he is doing dealing with it.
BUSH APPROVAL RATINGS
George W. Bush's overall approval ratings were not changed much by the Democratic convention. Overall, 44% approve of the job he is doing as president, and 49% disapprove. Prior to the convention, 45% approved of the job he was doing as president.
The President's lowest rating comes on his handling of the situation in Iraq. Once a source of positive views about him, now only 38% of Americans approve of how he is handling Iraq. That is at least in part because in retrospect, Americans are divided as to whether that military action was advisable or not. 45% think taking action against Iraq was the right thing to do, and 47% think it was a mistake. Views of voters are similar. Support for the war was much higher last year.
Also unchanged is the public's negative evaluation of how the war there is going. 43% think it is going well, and 54% think it is going badly.
In an election that remains neck and neck, and with most partisans overwhelmingly supporting their party's candidates, Independents have become an important voice, and their views of the President are mostly negative. Nearly six in ten voters who are Independents disapprove of the job Bush is doing overall, think things in this country are off on the wrong track, and disapprove of his handling of the economy and Iraq. He does somewhat better among Independents on handling terrorism; 50% of Independents approve, and 40% disapprove.
As has been the case throughout this year, more Americans --- and more voters -- think the country is headed off on the wrong track than think it is headed in the right direction.
COUNTRY IS HEADED IN THE:
Still, that may not necessarily spell trouble for the President. In September 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, 41% of Americans thought the country was headed in the right direction, and 48% thought it was off on the wrong track.
THE VICE PRESIDENTIAL CHOICES: EDWARDS AND CHENEY
Even after last week's convention many voters remain unable to offer an opinion on Democratic Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards. But among those that can rate him, 35% have a favorable opinion of him, while one in five have an unfavorable opinion of him. Among voters who watched coverage of the Democratic convention, 42% had a favorable opinion of Edwards.
More voters continue to have an unfavorable opinion of Cheney than a favorable one, but opinions of Vice President Dick Cheney have improved slightly from a few weeks ago. Now, 31% have a favorable view of Cheney and 35% have an unfavorable view. In mid July, just 28% had a favorable view of Cheney, while 37% had a negative one.
If there were a separate election for vice president, Edwards would be the favorite. 52% of voters say they'd vote for him, 38% for Cheney. Democrats and Republicans would both side with their party's man in such a case, but Edwards would win by over 2-to-1 with Independents. More than one in ten Bush voters would desert the ticket to vote for Edwards; fewer Kerry voters would desert to Cheney.
TERESA HEINZ KERRY
Despite a prime-time speaking slot at last week's convention, and a run-in with a print reporter, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, still remains unknown to half of registered voters. And those voters with an opinion of her are almost as likely to be unfavorable as favorable.
26% of voters have a favorable opinion of Heinz Kerry, while 23% have an unfavorable one. Back in May, when Heinz Kerry was even less known
(78% of voters could not offer an opinion of her), opinions of those who could rate her were also divided: 12% viewed her favorably, while 9% viewed her unfavorably.
As expected, there are differences along party lines. Democratic voters have a favorable view of Teresa Heinz Kerry, and Republicans an unfavorable one. Women are more likely than men to have a positive view of her and older voters view her more favorably than younger ones. And among those voters who watched coverage of the Democratic convention last week, 31% have a favorable impression of Teresa Heinz Kerry. Those who did NOT watch are more likely to hold negative views of her.
Evaluations of Heinz Kerry are not as positive as evaluations of Laura Bush in August 2000, shortly after the Republicans nominated her husband, George W. Bush. Back then, 31% of registered voters had a favorable impression of Laura Bush, 5% had an unfavorable one, and 63% were undecided or did not know enough about her.
Views about Teresa Heinz Kerry are somewhat closer to those about another Democratic spouse – Hillary Rodham Clinton. In July 1992, the summer before Bill Clinton was elected president, 29% of voters had a favorable opinion of Hillary Rodham Clinton, 14% had an unfavorable opinion, and 56% were unable to offer an opinion of her.
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