With a week to go until his party's nominating convention, Republican George W. Bush has stretched his lead in the presidential race over Democrat Al Gore to six points.
Bush's lead is up slightly from a week ago, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll. The Texas governor's favorable ratings are also up, and he scores better than Gore on several key candidate qualities, like leadership and trust.
| PRESIDENTIAL VOTE |
Forty-six percent of registered voters say they would vote for Bush if the election were held today, while 40 percent would support Gore. Just last week, Bushs relatively steady margin had narrowed: 43 percent to 41 percent. Bush's supporters are also somewhat more enthusiastic about their candidate than are Gre's: 40 percent say they are enthusiastically supporting Bush, and just 15 percent are voting for him because he is the party's nominee. Just 35 percent of Gore's supporters describe themselves as enthusiastic, and 21 percent are only supporting him because he is the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The poll is not all bad news for Gore, however. Both Gore and the Democratic Party have a large edge when it comes to health care, the issue that remains at the top of the voters agenda. Democrats also lead slightly in preferences for the House of Representatives: 41 percent of voters say they would currently vote Democratic for the House, 37 percent say they would vote Republican.
Voters have a clearly favorable view of the man who will soon become the Republican nominee - 44 percent of registered voters see Bush favorably, while 26 percent do not. Voters have mixed feelings about Gore: just 36 percent view him favorably, while 35 percent have an unfavorable view.
Bushs advantage over Gore is clear on questions of leadership and trust. More voters describe Bush as a strong leader than view Gore that way, and slightly more say they would trust Bush to keep his word as president. More also say that Bush says what he really thinks rather than what people want to hear, although neither candidate scores high on this quality.
Gore continues to have a clear edge on understanding the complicated problems a president has to face, as well as on caring about the voters. However, Bush also has solid evaluations on these qualities.
On other candidate qualities, neither Bush nor Gore has a clear advantage. Voters dont currently have confidence that either candidate would handle an international crisis wisely. But they think both candidates share the moral values by which most Americans try to live.
Three out of four voters think there are real differences between Bush and Gore; but most say the candidates differences aren't on personal qualities, rather on issue positions. Voters assessments of candidate issue differences suggest mostly typical Democratic and Republican strengths and weaknesses, though in some cases, the margins are smaller than usual.
Al Gore has a clear lead on the issue which voters most want the government to address - health care. Most voters say that, if elected, Gore is likely to make sure health care is affordable for everyone. Most don't say that about Bush. Voters also view Gore as more likely to make progress in protecting the environment, as well as more likely to appoint Supreme Court justices who will vote to keep abortion legal.
At the same time, Bush holds a clear lead on the traditionally Republican issue of reducing taxes, although voters are still skeptical: neither candidate is seen by most voters as likely to reduce taxes once in office. And while Gore and the Democrats have attempted to laim credit for the strong economy, voters view the candidates as equally likely to keep the economy strong.
Overall, voters still look at the candidates as taking traditionally Democratic and Republican positions - more than four in ten describe Bush as a conservative, and a nearly equal number see Gore as a liberal.
Among voters, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have similarly favorable ratings - majorities like each major party. The Republicans had lagged behind the Democrats until just a few months ago, but they appear to have finally shaken the negative assessments caused by the impeachment and trial of Bill Clinton.
| OPINIONS OF THE PARTIES |
On the other hand, voters view the Reform Party and the Green Party both mounting challenges in this election unfavorably. They view the parties candidates, Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader, similarly. In Buchanan's case, 40 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of him, while just 8 percent are favorable. Fewer voters express an opinion of Nader, but among those who do, nearly twice as many see him negatively as positively.
Given these images, it comes as little surprise that when asked to choose among four possible candidates, Bush, Gore, Buchanan and Nader, voters give the Reform Party and Green Party candidates less than 5 percent of the vote each. Bush still leads Gore in this expanded field, by a margin similar to last week.
| 4-WAY PRESIDENTIAL VOTE CHOICE |
Democrats, like their candidate, have a clear lead when it comes to public perceptions of who can improve the health care system. And, like their candidate, they also hold a lead on protecting the enironment. But Democratic margins over the Republicans on some other key issues are the smallest they have ever been in CBS News/New York Times polling.
The Democrats hold only an 8-point margin on making the right decisions about Social Security and a 14-point margin on being likely to improve education. This change may be due to the Bush campaign's emphasis on Social Security and education. As recently as two years ago, the Democratic lead was over 20 points on both. In addition, when the public is now asked which party cares more about people like themselves, just 43 percent choose the Democratic Party, the lowest percentage since 1985.
Republicans have retained to their time-honored leads on upholding traditional family values and keeping U.S. defenses strong. Like the candidates, the parties are equally likely to be seen as ensuring a strong economy. And while Bush is more likely to be seen as a tax cutter, the Democratic Party continues to hold an edge on making the tax system fair.
In the middle of his attempt to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement at Camp David, President Clinton's approval rating on handling foreign policy is 64 percent -- his highest rating in over a year. In addition, his overall approval rating is a strong 61 percent, while 73 percent continue to approve of the way he is handling the economy.
| CLINTON JOB APPROVAL |
As of now, while half of voters claim they will vote on Mr. Clinton's policies this fall, the president's impact on the actual outcome of the election may be minimal. In March, twice as many voters said they viewed their upcoming vote as a vote to CHANGE Mr. Clinton's policies as said they were voting to continue those policies. Now the balance is even.
While voters narrowly would choose Democrats over Republicans in the House elections this fall, the recent actions of the Republican-controlled Congress - passing legislation to cut taxes for married people and eliminate the capital gains tax, as well as their continued work on trade issues - may have helped the partys overall image.
Forty-five percent say that they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, its highest rating in more than a year; 41 percent disapprove.