President George W. Bush continues to capture the lead in key matchups with Democratic presidential contenders, although his numbers now hover closer to the 50 percent mark.

The latest FOX News national poll shows that if the 2004 presidential election were held today, President Bush would capture 49 percent of the vote when matched against former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search), retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search), or Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search). Each of these Democratic hopefuls receives the same amount of support (36 percent).

If the Democratic opponent were New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (search), just over half of voters say they would support the president and almost four in 10 would support Clinton (52 percent to 38 percent).

Opinion Dynamics Corporation (search) conducted the poll of registered voters November 18-19.

"There have been a lot of polls showing Bush and a generic Democrat close, but the actual candidates are still not well enough known to close that gap," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman (search). "The problem for Bush in these numbers is he doesn't have a clear majority and it is likely many of the undecided voters will not back him. For example, undecided voters in the Bush-Clark matchup disapprove of Bush’s economic performance by a 62 percent to 25 percent margin. That suggests those voters are currently more likely to decide for Clark than for Bush."

Military veterans and current members of the armed forces are no more likely than other Americans to support Clark, a retired U.S. Army general. Among this military subgroup, Bush receives 53 percent to Clark’s 36 percent. Furthermore, the military subgroup would vote strikingly similar to other Americans on all the vote questions.

As in the past, there are clear differences between the vote preferences of men and women. The poll shows that men are generally about 10 percentage points more likely than women to support Bush.

Among Democratic registered voters, Dean tops the list for that party’s nomination at 18 percent, followed by Clark (14 percent) and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (10 percent). The remaining candidates all receive single-digit support.

When voters were asked whether Bush or Democratic front-runner Dean would do a better job of keeping the country safe from terrorism, Bush outranks Dean by 22 percentage points (51 percent to 29 percent). Republicans are very supportive of their party’s leader, with fully 89 percent saying Bush would do a better job on national security compared to 56 percent of Democrats saying Dean.

On managing the country’s economy, Bush still bests Dean, but by a smaller margin than on security — a 43 percent plurality says Bush would do a better job managing the economy and 38 percent say Dean. Again, Republicans are faithful to their candidate, with 83 percent saying Bush would do better on the economy while 69 percent of Democrats say Dean.

A majority of the public thinks Clinton will wait to run for president in 2008 (63 percent), but a small minority thinks she has plans to run in 2004 (14 percent) and seven percent say “neither.” Even though Clinton has repeatedly said she is not running in 2004, many pundits speculate she could still be planning to get into the race.

Polling was conducted by telephone November 18-19, 2003 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points, unless otherwise noted. 

1. Regardless of how you usually vote, in the last few years which political party do you think has been more partisan and unwilling to compromise? (ROTATE)

1. Democratic Party 34%
2. Republican Party 40
3. (Both) 13
4. (Not sure) 13

2. I'm going to read you a list of names of some possible candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in the next election. If a 2004 Democratic primary for president were held today, which ONE of the following candidates would you most likely vote for? (If not sure: Well, to whom do you lean at thistime?) (RANDOMIZE)

                             ----- Summary Among Democrats (n=345) -----

Dean 18%
Clark 14
Lieberman 10
Gephardt 9
Kerry 8
Braun 3
Edwards 3
Kucinich 2
Sharpton 2
(Else/Other) 6
(Not sure) 22
(Would not vote) 3

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 14% 10%
14-15 Oct 03 13 11
23-24 Sep 03 20 16

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 10% 13%
14-15 Oct 03 11 9
23-24 Sep 03 9 8
9-10 Sep 03 16 17
12-13 Aug 03 18 15

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 8% 8%
14-15 Oct 03 10 7
23-24 Sep 03 10 8
9-10 Sep 03 17 11
12-13 Aug 03 13 7

Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 9% 6%
14-15 Oct 03 9 6
23-24 Sep 03 9 6
9-10 Sep 03 6 9
12-13 Aug 03 12 8

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 3% 3%
14-15 Oct 03 3 2
23-24 Sep 03 5 5
9-10 Sep 03 4 3
12-13 Aug 03 3 3

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 3% 3%
14-15 Oct 03 3 1
23-24 Sep 03 2 3
9-10 Sep 03 3 1
12-13 Aug 03 4 2

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 18% 16%
14-15 Oct 03 12 10
23-24 Sep 03 13 9
9-10 Sep 03 14 11
12-13 Aug 03 11 7

New York Rev. Al Sharpton

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 2% 1%
14-15 Oct 03 2 3
23-24 Sep 03 3 3
9-10 Sep 03 2 2
12-13 Aug 03 5 3

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 2% 3%
14-15 Oct 03 2 1
23-24 Sep 03 1 1
9-10 Sep 03 2 1
12-13 Aug 03 2 -

(Someone else/Other)

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 6% 2%
14-15 Oct 03 - -
23-24 Sep 03 5 5
9-10 Sep 03 7 7
12-13 Aug 03 5 11

(Not sure)

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 22% 25%
14-15 Oct 03 27 33
23-24 Sep 03 19 25
9-10 Sep 03 24 31
12-13 Aug 03 22 31

(Would not vote)

Dem Ind
18-19 Nov 03 3% 10%
14-15 Oct 03 8 17
23-24 Sep 03 2 8
9-10 Sep 03 2 6
12-13 Aug 03 3 6

3. If the election for president of the United States were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were: (rotate order) (Push for decision) 1. Republican George W. Bush 2. Democrat Howard Dean 3. (Not sure/Other) 4. (Would Not Vote)

Bush Dean (NS/Other) (Would not vote)
18-19 Nov 03 49% 36 12 3
29-30 Jul 03 55% 27 15 3

4. For whom would you vote if the candidates were: (rotate order)(Push for decision) 1. Republican George W. Bush 2. Democrat Dick Gephardt 3. (Not sure/Other) 4. (Would not vote)

Bush Gephardt (NS/Other) (Would not vote)
18-19 Nov 03 49% 36 12 3
29-30 Jul 03 52% 33 12 3
6-7 May 03 56% 30 12 2

5. For whom would you vote if the candidates were: (rotate order)(Push for decision) 1. Republican George W. Bush 2. Democrat Wesley Clark 3. (Not sure/Other) 4. (Would not vote)

Bush Clark (NS/Other) (Would not vote)
18-19 Nov 03 49% 36 13 2
23-24 Sep 03 46% 37 17* na

*(Neither/Not sure)

6. For whom would you vote if the candidates were: (rotate order)(Push for decision) 1. Republican George W. Bush 2. Democrat Hillary Clinton 3. (Not sure/Other) 4. (Would not vote)

Bush Clinton (NS/Other) (Would not vote)
18-19 Nov 03 52% 38 8 2
29-30 Jul 03 52% 35 10 3
6-7 May 03 60% 30 8 2
19-20 Nov 02 59% 24 16 1
6-7 Aug 02 58% 28 12 2
10-11 Jan 01 45% 34 21 -

7. In the long run, who do you think would do a better job of keeping the country safe from terrorismGeorge W. Bush or Howard Dean? (ROTATE)

All Dem Rep Ind Know
Soldier*
Military**
1. George W. Bush 51% 21% 89% 42% 55% 57%
2. Howard Dean 29 56 4 29 28 29
3. (Not sure/Other) 20 24 7 29 18 14

* “Know Soldier” = Respondent knows someone sent/being sent to Mideast for the action in Iraq, n = 414 ** “Military” = Veteran or current member the U.S. armed forces, n = 165 < /FONT>

8. Who do you think would do a better job on managing the country's economyGeorge W. Bush or Howard Dean? (ROTATE)

All Dem Rep Ind
1. George W. Bush 43% 11% 83% 32%
2. Howard Dean 38 69 8 38
3. (Not sure/Other) 19 20 9 30

9. Do you think Hillary Clinton has a plan to run for president in 2004 or do you think she will wait until 2008?

1. Plans to run in 2004 14%
2. Will wait until 2008 63
3. (Neither) 7
4. (Not sure) 16