Even as insurgents increase their attacks in the days leading up to the June 30 handover, the public’s belief that going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do is holding steady. Majorities believe there was a partnership between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and that military action abroad is necessary to protect from having to fight terrorists on U.S. soil. In addition, brightening impressions on the condition of the economy helped President Bush improve his standing against Democrat John Kerry this week, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday.

President Bush currently has an advantage over Democratic candidate John Kerry in both the two-way matchup and three-way matchups. If the election were held today, the poll finds Bush at 48 percent and Kerry at 42 percent. When independent candidate Ralph Nader is included he receives three percent, Bush 47 percent and Kerry 40 percent.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national poll of 900 registered voters for Fox News on June 22-23.

As has been the case since the end of the primary season, Bush’s strength of support is much higher than Kerry’s. Fully 75 percent of Bush voters say they support him "strongly" and 25 percent say "only somewhat." Among Kerry voters, just over half — 53 percent — say they support him "strongly" and 45 percent say "only somewhat."

Significantly more voters think Bush would do a better job than Kerry protecting the United States from terrorist attacks (49 percent to 28 percent). On the nation’s economy, Bush and Kerry are evenly matched with each receiving 42 percent. Bush has an 11-percentage point edge over Kerry when voters are asked which candidate is "more honest and trustworthy," although 12 percent volunteer "neither."

The issue voters say will influence their decision the most is the economy (26 percent), followed by health care (16 percent), terrorism (10 percent), homeland security (eight percent), education (six percent) and Social Security (six percent).

Regardless of how they plan to vote, half of the public believes Bush is going to win in November, 30 percent believe Kerry will win and 20 percent are unsure or think it is too early to say.

The president’s overall job approval rating is 49 percent, which is about where it has been holding for the last four months. On specific issue areas, Bush receives his highest approval rating on the issue of terrorism. Today, 52 percent approve of Bush’s job performance on handling terrorism, down from 67 percent at the beginning of the year and a high of 73 percent in May 2003.

On both handling the situation with Iraq and managing the economy, more Americans disapprove than approve of Bush’s performance. Today, 46 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing managing the economy.

During the course of the war, the president’s ratings on his handling of the situation with Iraq have fluctuated significantly. Currently 45 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove of Bush’s job performance on Iraq. At the beginning of the year, soon after the capture of Saddam Hussein, 57 percent of Americans approved and 35 percent disapproved.

"While the president holds a slender lead, this is a very close and volatile race," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "The race is still more a referendum on Bush's performance than a race between the two men. Kerry will have to try to use the Democratic Convention to get the voters to start comparing the candidates — and hope that he comes out favorably in the comparison."

Economy The president’s recent gains over Kerry may be attributed, in part, to improved perceptions on the condition of the economy. Nearly half, 47 percent, think the economy is getting stronger, up from 36 percent in April. On the job situation, 31 percent think it is getting better, 26 percent worse and 39 percent the same.

Twice as many people rate their personal financial situation positively as negatively, with 62 percent saying their situation is "excellent" or "good." Just over a third (36 percent) rate their financial situation as "only fair" or "poor."

Key Battleground States In addition to the national poll, Fox News conducted statewide registered voter polls this week in four battleground states: Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

President Bush does best in Florida, where optimism about economic conditions is higher than in other key states.

The Economy
Getting stronger Not getting stronger
Florida 49% 36
Michigan 32% 57
Ohio 32% 58
Pennsylvania 30% 56

Bush tops Kerry by nine percentage points in a head-to-head matchup in Florida and by 10 points when Nader is included.

Bush and Kerry are most closely matched in Michigan, with Bush at 42 percent, Kerry at 40 percent and Nader at five percent (his highest level of support in the states tested). In the two-way Michigan race Bush and Kerry are virtually tied, with Kerry up by only one percent.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania, the race is also well within the poll’s margin of error. In Ohio, Bush is chosen over Kerry by a 45 percent to 41 percent margin, with Nader at four percent. Bush has a slight five-percentage point edge over Kerry in Pennsylvania, with Nader at three percent.

Iraq and the War on Terror More Americans continue to think going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do. Unchanged since early April, today 50 percent think going to war was the right thing to do and 42 percent say it was the wrong thing. A year ago, 65 percent said it was the right thing to do.

Even so, a plurality is skeptical about Iraq’s chance of establishing a democracy in the long term. By 42 percent to 34 percent, Americans think Iraq is more likely to be governed by a dictatorship than by a freely elected government five years from now.

Last week the bipartisan commission investigating the 9/11 attacks said it did not find credible evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Saddam’s regime and the Al Qaeda terror network. The poll finds that twice as many Americans believe that there was a partnership between Iraq and Al Qaeda when Saddam was in power than that there was no working relationship (56 percent and 28 percent).

"It is notable that while many critics have seen the 9/11 commission reports as hurting the administration, they may actually have helped with the voters," comments Gorman. "The commission is saying something that a majority of Americans don't believe, while the president has been given the platform to repeat his belief in something they do believe. Right or wrong, he's preaching to the choir."

There is a huge partisan divide on this issue, with 73 percent of Republicans believing there was a partnership between Iraq and Al Qaeda, compared to 38 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents.

A strong majority thinks it is likely that Saddam had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks. Over two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) think it is "very" or "somewhat" likely Saddam knew about the attacks, while 23 percent think it is "not very" or "not at all" likely the former Iraqi leader knew about the plans.

By a wide margin, the public agrees with the Bush administration’s view that fighting terrorists abroad will help keep from having to fight terrorists on U.S. soil. By 63 percent to 26 percent Americans agree that military action in Iraq and Afghanistan is necessary to protect the United States.

Finally, a majority thinks it is "very" or "somewhat" likely terrorists will try to disrupt the presidential election this year with a major attack on the United States (62 percent likely, 29 percent unlikely).

Polling was conducted by telephone June 22-23, 2004 in the evenings. The total national sample is 900 registered voters nationwide, with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points. Results are of registered voters, unless otherwise noted. LV = likely voters

In addition, 750 registered voters were interviewed in each of the following four statewide polls (±4): Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The "Battlegrounds" subgroup includes the following 15 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 2000) and "Blue States" (gave their electoral votes to Gore).

Pdf: Click here for full poll results.