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05/20/04: Little Movement in Bush-Kerry Matchup

The latest Fox News poll finds that while President Bush's job rating remains below 50 percent and pessimism about the nation's economy grows, the election matchup shows little movement. In addition, on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, the poll finds a majority believes the abuse was limited to a few soldiers and most are confident those responsible will be brought to justice, but few support financially compensating the abused prisoners.

Currently, 48 percent of Americans approve and 43 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president, according to this week's Fox News poll. While these ratings are virtually unchanged from earlier in the month, it is a 10-percentage point drop in approval and 12-point increase in disapproval since early January.

For more on the campaign, click to view Foxnews.com's You Decide 2004 page.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national poll of 900 registered voters for Fox News on May 18-19.

The sharp national divide continues on many topics, but may best be illustrated with the current presidential horse race numbers. If the election were held today, the head-to-head matchup between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (search) shows the candidates would be tied at 42 percent each. Earlier this month Bush was at 44 percent and Kerry 41 percent.

When independent candidate Ralph Nader (search) is included he receives three percent, 40 percent Kerry and 40 percent Bush.

The intensity of President Bush's vote remains strong and is significantly above his (still somewhat unknown) Democratic opponent's. Fully 78 percent of Bush voters say they "strongly" support him, up five percentage points since early April, and 21 percent say they "somewhat" support him. Among those backing Kerry, 59 percent say they "strongly" support him, up seven points in the last six weeks, and 40 percent "somewhat" support him.

Two potential running mates — North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (search) and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) — were tested in the Democratic vice presidential slot, but neither stands out as giving a lift to the ticket. The Bush-Cheney ticket ties both the hypothetical Kerry-Edwards and Kerry-Gephardt tickets.

The public is split on whether Sen. Kerry would be doing a better job than the incumbent handling today's hot issues if he were president today. On the situation in Iraq, 39 percent think Kerry would be doing a better job than Bush is doing, 34 percent think worse, and 13 percent think there would be no difference.

On the nation's economy, which about half of Americans think is worsening, more than four in 10 think the Democratic contender would be doing a better job than Bush is doing, 30 percent say worse, and 16 percent say Kerry would be doing the "same" job as Bush. A third think the economy would recover faster if Kerry were elected, 21 percent think it would recover slower, but a plurality (35 percent) thinks it would make "no difference."

Would Kerry be Doing a Better Job Than Bush?

Handling of
Iraq Economy
If Kerry Were President:    
Better than Bush 39% 42%
Worse than Bush 34 30
Same as 13 16

Overall, the public is evenly divided on which candidate would make America a "more successful country." While 39 percent say the country will be more successful if Kerry is elected, 38 percent say Bush, and nine percent say there would be no difference.

Half of the public says it seems the economy is getting worse, and the most frequently mentioned reasons for that pessimism include unemployment (37 percent) and gas prices (31 percent). About a third say it feels like the economy is getting better, and an increase in job availability is the top reason cited for this feeling (40 percent), followed by "a general sense" (16 percent), pay increases (12 percent) and the stock market (11 percent).

"The presidential race has been essentially deadlocked for months," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "It seems anything that is likely to move the numbers is almost instantly checkmated by something on the other side. If Iraq gets bad, some good economic news appears. If either candidate seems to be getting a bounce, the other one's advertising ratchets up. In the long run, though, developments in Iraq and the economy will almost certainly determine the outcome of the race."

Overall, two-thirds of Americans say this year's election is more important than most other presidential elections, including 72 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents.

The public sees some differences in recent media coverage of the two major candidates, with almost twice as many thinking coverage of Bush has been "too tough" as think so about the coverage of Kerry. Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) think recent news reports have been "too tough" on the president, while 32 percent say "too easy," and 14 percent say coverage has been even-handed.

A 33 percent plurality sees the media coverage of Kerry over the last few months as too easy, while 24 percent say too tough, and 24 percent say news about the Democratic candidate has been balanced. As on other measures, it is important to note that many Americans are still somewhat unfamiliar with Kerry and that can be seen in these results as well, as one in five are unable to form an opinion.

Iraq and the Prisoner Abuse Scandal

Americans are divided on whether President Bush has done a good job explaining his positions on Iraq. A slim 51 percent majority is satisfied with the job Bush has done explaining his policies, but 45 percent are dissatisfied.

Even so, twice as many say Bush has done a better job explaining how the U.S. will win in Iraq than Kerry has (40 percent Bush, 20 percent Kerry), while many Americans (20 percent) say "neither" candidate has explained how to win in Iraq and another 18 percent is unsure.

As for next steps in Iraq, a minority thinks the U.S. will never be able to stabilize Iraq and should "get out now," while almost half support either staying on the current course or becoming more aggressive and 21 percent think it would be best to start from scratch with a "whole new plan."

A majority believes the abuse of Iraqi prisoners was limited to a few soldiers (58 percent), with a quarter believing it is a widespread problem. Most Americans (71 percent) believe the soldiers' supervisors knew what was going on, and a strong majority (63 percent) is confident the responsible parties will be brought to justice. By almost five-to-one, Americans say the abused prisoners should not be financially compensated by the U.S..

"These numbers suggest Americans are sorting out the prisoner abuse scandal just as the Congress and the courts are," comments Gorman. "On the one hand, most believe only a few were responsible, but a large majority also believes that many knew, which means they should have done something."

Nearly half of the public is satisfied with the Bush administration's response to the abuse scandal (22 percent "very" and 27 percent "somewhat"), while a strong 42 percent minority are dissatisfied (29 percent "very" and 13 percent "somewhat").

The beheading of American civilian Nick Berg (search) by Muslim terrorists was a much more upsetting news story to Americans than the prisoner abuse scandal (60 percent and eight percent respectively), with 29 percent saying both news reports were equally upsetting.

Some Americans (34 percent) believe the prisoner abuse scandal was covered "excessively" by the news media compared to only nine percent saying the beheading received too much coverage. Over a third (35 percent) think both stories received excessive media coverage and 15 percent say neither.

Polling was conducted by telephone May 18-19, 2004 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points. Results are of registered voters, unless otherwise noted.

"Battlegrounds" include the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The remaining non-battleground states are divided into "Red States" (voted for Bush in the 2000 election) and "Blue States" (gave their electoral votes to Gore).

1. If the election for president of the United States were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were: (ROTATE)
SCALE: 1. Republican George W. Bush 2. Democrat John Kerry 3. Independent candidate Ralph Nader 4. (Not sure/Other) 5. (Would not vote)

Bush Kerry Nader (NS/Other) (Would
  not vote)
All 40% 40 3 15 2
Battlegrounds 43% 37 2 16 2
Red States 44% 36 6 12 2
Blue States 35% 46 1 17 1
TREND:          
   18-19 May 04 40% 40 3 15 2
   21-22 Apr 04 42% 40 2 14 2
   23-24 Mar 04 43% 42 3 10 2
   18-19 Feb 04* 43% 42 4 9 2

*Wording: "Green Party candidate Ralph Nader"

2. If the election for president of the United States were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were: (ROTATE) 1. Republican George W. Bush 2. Democrat John Kerry 3. (Not sure/Other) 4. (Would not vote)

Bush Kerry (NS/Other) (Would
  not vote)
All 42% 42 13 3
Battlegrounds 43% 39 15 3
Red States 46% 41 9 4
Blue States 37% 47 14 2
TREND:        
   18-19 May 04 42% 42 13 3
   4-5 May 04 44% 41 13 2
   21-22 Apr 04 43% 42 12 3
   6-7 Apr 04 43% 44 12 1
   23-24 Mar 04 44% 44 10 2

3. Do you support (insert candidate choice) strongly or only somewhat?
SCALE: 1. Strongly support 2. Only somewhat support 3. (Not sure)

Bush Voters Kerry Voters —  
Strngly Smwht (NS) Strngly Smwht (NS)
18-19 May 04 78% 21 1 59 40 1
6-7 Apr 04 73% 26 1 52 46 2
3-4 Mar 04 75% 23 2 55 42 3

4. Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president?

Approve Disapprove (DK)
18-19 May 04 48% 43 9
4-5 May 04 49% 43 8
21-22 Apr 04 50% 44 6
6-7 Apr 04 49% 44 7
23-24 Mar 04 47% 44 9

5. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Donald Rumsfeld is doing as secretary of defense?

Approve Disapprove (DK)
18-19 May 04 48% 36 16
21-22 Apr 04 49% 39 12
14-15 Oct 03 54% 29 17
22-23 Apr 03 67% 19 14
25-26 Mar 03 71% 16 13

6. In the presidential election, let's say the Republican ticket is President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney versus a Democratic ticket of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry for president and North Carolina Senator John Edwards for vice president. If the election were held today, which ticket would you support?
SCALE: 1. Republican ticket, Bush-Cheney 2. Democratic ticket, Kerry-Edwards 3. (Neither) 4. (Not sure)

Bush-Cheney Kerry-Edwards (Neither) (NS)
18-19 May 04 43% 43 3 11
23-24 Mar 04 43% 48 2 7
3-4 Mar 04 45% 45 2 8

7. In the presidential election, let's say the Republican ticket is President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney versus a Democratic ticket of Senator John Kerry for president and Missouri Representative Dick Gephardt for vice president. If the election were held today, which ticket would you support?
SCALE: 1. Republican ticket, Bush-Cheney 2. Democratic ticket, Kerry-Gephardt 3. (Neither) 4. (Not sure)

  Bush-Cheney Kerry-Gephardt (Neither) (NS)
18-19 May 04 43% 42 3 12

8. Do you think this year’s presidential election will make more of a difference or less of a difference to the future of the country than most other presidential elections?
SCALE: 1. More of a difference than most 2. Less of a difference than most3. (Same as most) 4. (Not sure)

More Less (Same) (NS)
18-19 May 04 65% 7 19 9
   Dem 72% 9 12 7
   Rep 63% 5 23 9
   Ind 54% 5 27 14
18-19 Feb 04 63% 8 22 7

9. Overall, do you think America will be a more successful country if (Bush) gets elected or if (Kerry) gets elected?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Bush 38% 9% 79% 33%
2. Kerry 39 74 7 28
3. (Same) 9 5 7 18
4. (Not sure) 14 12 7 21

10. If John Kerry were president right now, do you think he would be doing a better job handling the situation in Iraq than George Bush is doing, a worse job than Bush or about the same job as Bush is doing right now handling the situation in Iraq? (Is that a lot better/worse or only a little better/worse?)
SCALE: 1. A lot better 2. A little better 3. A little worse 4. A lot worse 5. Same 6. (Not sure)

Better Worse    
TOT Lot Little TOT Little Lot (Same) (Not sure)
18-19 May 04 39% 30 9 34 11 23 13 14

11. If John Kerry were president right now, do you think he would be doing a better job handling the nation’s economy than George Bush is, a worse job than Bush or about the same job as Bush is doing right now handling the nation’s economy? (Is that a lot better/worse or only a little better/worse?)
SCALE: 1. A lot better 2. A little better 3. A little worse 4. A lot worse 5. Same 6. (Not sure)

Better Worse    
TOT Lot Little TOT Little Lot (Same) (Not sure)
18-19 May 04 42% 30 12 30 8 22 16 12

12. Which presidential candidate — (Bush) or (Kerry) — have you heard best explain how the U.S.-led coalition is going to win in Iraq?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Bush 40% 17% 74% 37%
2. Kerry 20 38 2 13
3. (Both) 2 3 1 3
4. (Neither) 20 20 13 30
5. (Not sure) 18 22 10 17

13. Overall, how satisfied are you with the job President Bush has done explaining his policies on Iraq?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Very satisfied 25% 6% 52% 20%
2. Somewhat satisfied 26 16 33 36
3. Somewhat dissatisfied 11 15 6 15
4. Very dissatisfied 34 59 7 25
5. (Not sure) 4 4 2 4

14. Over the last few months, would you say reports in the news media have been too easy or too tough on President George Bush?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Too easy 32% 56% 8% 25%
2. Too tough 46 24 77 40
3. (Neither/Even handed) 14 14 10 21
4. (Not sure) 8 6 5 14

15. Over the last few months, would you say reports in the news media have been too easy or too tough on Senator John Kerry?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Too easy 33% 22% 51% 28%
2. Too tough 24 36 15 15
3. (Neither/Even handed) 24 28 17 28
4. (Not sure) 19 14 17 29

16. For you and your family, does it feel like the economy is getting better or worse?

Better Worse (Same) (Not sure)
18-19 May 04 31% 49 17 3
   Dem 11% 72 14 3
   Rep 59% 20 18 3
   Ind 27% 47 23 3
18-19 Feb 04 36% 41 21 2
21-22 Jan 04 44% 34 19 3
14-15 Oct 03 35% 45 18 2

17. (If better/worse) Why do you say it feels like the economy is getting (better/worse)?

  Better Worse
(No jobs) -% 37%
(Gas prices increasing) - 31
(General sense) 16 10
(More jobs) 40 -
(Pay increase) 12 -
(Stock market) 11 1
(Grocery prices) - 6
(Stores busier/business improving) 8 -
(Iraq/War) - 4
(Prescription costs) - 2
(Other) 4 4
(Don’t know/Refused) 9 5

18. If Democrat John Kerry were elected president, do you think it would make the nation’s economy recover faster than it currently is, slower than it is, or would it make no difference to the economic recovery if Kerry were elected president?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Faster economic recovery 33% 61% 8% 22%
2. Slower economic recovery 21 6 44 14
3. No difference 35 23 41 46
4. (Not sure) 11 10 7 18

19. Generally speaking, do you think news reports about U.S. military operations in Iraq have been:
SCALE: 1. More likely to focus on the negative things happening in Iraq and leave out the positive things, or 2. More likely to focus on the positive things happening in Iraq and leave out the negative things? 3. (Neither) 4. (Depends) 5. (Not sure)

Focus
  on Negative
Focus
  on Positive
(Neither) (Depends) (NS)
18-19
May 04
70% 11 7 8 4
14-15
Oct 03
60% 19 8 9 4

20. On the situation in Iraq today, where do you think most of the problems are being created?

1. In Iraq 23%
2. In Washington, DC, or 18
3. In the news media 27
4. (Combination) 21
5. (All) 8
6. (None) -
7. (Not sure) 3

21. Which one of the following best describes what you think the United States should do to stabilize Iraq? Do you think the United States should:

1. Stay on the current course 15%
2. Stay on the same general course,
    but become more aggressive with
    military tactics
28
3. Develop a whole new plan 21
4. Get out now - U.S. will never be
    able to stabilize Iraq
28
5. (Other) 1
6. (Not sure) 7

22. How satisfied are you with the Bush administration’s response to reports of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners?

1. Very satisfied 22%
2. Somewhat satisfied 27
3. Somewhat dissatisfied 13
4. Very dissatisfied 29
5. (Not sure) 9

23. Do you believe the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers was widespread or was it limited to a few soldiers?

1. Widespread 25%
2. Limited 58
3. (Not sure) 17

24. Do you believe that the supervisors of the soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners were aware of the abuse?

1. Yes, supervisors were aware 71%
2. No, supervisors were not aware 12
3. (Not sure) 17

25. How confident are you that those responsible for the Iraqi prisoner abuse will be brought to justice?

1. Very confident 37%
2. Somewhat confident 26
3. Not very confident 17
4. Not at all confident 13
5. (Not sure) 7

26. Do you think the United States should financially compensate the abused Iraqi prisoners?

1. Yes 15%
2. No 73
3. (Not sure) 12

27. Which of the following news stories upset you more?

1. The abuse of Iraqi prisoners
    by U.S. soldiers
8%
2. The beheading of an American
    civilian by Muslim terrorists
60
3. (Both equal) 29
4. (Not sure) 3

28. Do you think the media spent an excessive amount of time covering either of the following news stories?

1. The Iraqi prisoner abuse story 34%
2. The beheading of American Nick Berg 9
3. (Both were covered excessively) 35
4. (Neither was covered excessively) 15
5. (Not sure) 7

29. Is the beheading of American civilian Nick Berg more likely to make you feel that U.S. troops need to fight more aggressively in Iraq than they have been or that troops should pull out of Iraq?

1. Need to be tougher 48%
2. Should pull out 31
3. (Neither) 13
4. (Not sure) 8

30. When you hear about the continuing violent attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, are you more likely to think the United States should be pulling troops our of Iraq or that the United States should be using more force to help stop the attacks by Iraqi insurgents?

1. Pull troops out 32%
2. Use more force 52
3. (Neither) 9
4. (Not sure) 7

31. Do you think it would be good for the United States or bad for the United States to change presidents during a war?

All Dem Rep Ind
1. Good 28% 51% 6% 21%
2. Bad 49 25 80 44
3. (No difference) 14 14 11 22
4. (Not sure) 9 10 3 13

32. Do you believe gays and lesbians should be:
SCALE: 1. Allowed to get legally married, 2. Allowed a legal partnership similar to but not called marriage, or 3. Should there be no legal recognition given to gay and lesbian relationships? 4. (Not sure)

Legally Legal No Legal  
Married Partnership Recognition (NS)
18-19 May 04 25% 26 40 9
3-4 Mar 04 20% 33 40 7
12-13 Jan 00* 19% 24 47 10

*Wording: "...legal domestic partnership..."