President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry (search) are locked in a very close race in their battle for the 27 electoral votes in Florida, according to a new poll in the essential swing state of 2000.

Bush and Kerry had the backing of 43 percent apiece in a three-way matchup with independent Ralph Nader (search), who had the support of 5 percent in the telephone poll conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling (search) Institute of Connecticut.

Without Nader, Kerry had 46 percent and Bush 44 percent, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Voters were evenly split on having a favorable or unfavorable view of both Bush and Kerry, the poll found.

"Both Bush and Kerry have sharply polarized the Florida voters," Quinnipiac's Clay Richards said. "At this stage in the campaign, Florida voters don't like either of the candidates very much."

Bush's narrow, 537-vote win in Florida in 2000 gave him the presidency over Al Gore after a fierce tug-of-war that included recounts, lawsuits and a final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Bush.

Although Florida has about 300,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, the only Democrats to carry the state in the last three decades are Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton 20 years later.

The survey of 1,209 Florida registered voters was taken June 23-27.