Final CBS Poll: Slim Bush Lead

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By Jarrett Murphy, producer
A CBS News poll taken up to the eve of Election Day 2004 found the electorate as it has been for weeks and as it was four years ago — sharply divided.

The telephone survey of 1,600 adults, which was conducted from Friday to Monday, found President Bush with a 49-47 percent lead over Sen. John Kerry among likely voters including people leaning toward a candidate.

That lead was within the poll's three-point margin of error.

Among all registered voters, it is only a one-point Bush edge - 48 percent to 47 percent.

Ralph Nader draws 1 percent and 3 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

A CBS News/New York Times poll released Sunday showed Mr. Bush with a 49-46 percent lead. Another CBS News survey, issued on Monday, had the president with a slim 47-46 percent advantage.

On Monday, when the CBS poll tightened, 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 on Monday, "We believe we are slightly ahead."

Because of the margin of error, the candidates were essentially tied over all three days and all three polls.

"There is no other way to describe this election except as close," CBS pollsters conclude.

Other national polls echoed CBS' findings, showing statistical ties between the candidates.

A Fox poll released Monday gave Kerry a 48-46 percent lead among likely voters. A Harris poll had the president up by 4 points. Marist depicted Kerry up by a point, as did Reuters/Zogby. NBC/Wall Street Journal and ABC/Washington Post polls gave Mr. Bush a 1-point lead. Gallup showed a tie.

In the final days of the race, all the surveys have exposed the same, key questions that voting taking place Tuesday will answer:

  • Are the models of "likely voters" ignoring newly registered voters whom pollsters believe lean heavily Democratic?
  • Which way will the few remaining undecided voters break?
  • Does it matter that Mr. Bush has not broken 50 percent — a benchmark for an incumbent president?

    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.

    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.

    In the CBS News poll, the 3 percent of votes who are truly undecided and joined by another 6 percent who believe they could change their minds.

    These voters tend to think economic issues are more important than national security, believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and oppose the war in Iraq — all trends that seem to favor Kerry.

    However, among all voters, independents are split evenly between the Democrat and Republican tickets.

    Men favor Mr. Bush and women prefer Kerry but the gender gap is smaller than it was four years ago. Twenty percent of voters say they have already cast ballots, and 54 percent of those voters say they picked Mr. Bush.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the poll found that the country is also divided on how it would react to a win by either candidate. Forty-five percent of registered voters say they'd be "excited" or "optimistic" about a Bush. An equal number feel the same way about a Kerry win.

    Answering they'd be "concerned" or "scared" are 54 percent for Mr. Bush and 53 percent for Kerry.
    By Jarrett Murphy