Poll: Close 2004 Race Draws Interest

Public interest in the closely matched contest between President Bush and presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry (search) is higher now than it was just before the last two elections, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The campaign occurs as the loss of jobs has become an increasingly important issue and the nation remains engaged in the fight against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than six in 10 respondents — 63 percent — said their interest in the campaign is very high.

In October 1996, that level of interest in the campaign was at 48 percent. It was at 55 percent in October 2000.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollster Bill McInturff (search) conducted the poll for National Public Radio.

The survey suggested Bush has an edge in combatting terrorism, while Kerry has an advantage on the jobs issue. The two remain evenly matched on most other issues and in preference, with Bush at 47 percent and Kerry at 45 percent.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll out Wednesday also showed a close presidential race, with Bush at 47 percent and Kerry at 45 percent.

Bush has an edge on handling the war against terrorism when he highlights Kerry's past Senate votes on intelligence spending and his stand on the death penalty. Kerry opposes the death penalty except in cases of international and domestic terrorism.

Kerry has a major advantage in the jobs debate, until Bush contends that Kerry's past support for tax increases indicates his policies would cut off economic growth.

The NPR poll of 922 registered voters was conducted Feb. 26-March 1 and the NBC-Journal poll of 1,018 adults was taken March 6-8. Both have margins of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.