In the week preceding John Kerry’s official nomination at the Democratic Convention (search) in Boston, the presidential race remains deadlocked with support for Republican George W. Bush and Kerry split down the middle, according to the latest FOX News Poll.

President Bush’s job performance rating is below the key 50 percent mark, although among Republican voters his ratings are sky-high.

On the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation to centralize management of U.S. intelligence agencies, just over half of the public agrees this action would make the country more secure. A majority is confident that U.S. intelligence agencies have made improvements and would be able to prevent major Sept. 11-type attacks from happening in the future.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on July 20-21.

In the two-way presidential matchup, the poll finds Bush and Kerry both at 44 percent. When independent candidate Ralph Nader (search) is included, he receives four percent, Bush 43 percent and Kerry 42 percent. The new results are clearly well within the poll’s margin of error, as has been the case in almost all FOX News poll presidential matchups for more than three months.

In addition to a huge partisan gap, there is a gender gap in presidential preference. Bush receives the advantage among men (49 percent over Kerry’s 40 percent), while Kerry has the edge among women (47 percent over Bush’s 40 percent). Fully 88 percent of Republicans back Bush, compared to 82 percent of Democrats backing Kerry. Independent voters are evenly divided — 39 percent for Bush and 41 percent for Kerry.

The race for the White House is equally tight in the 15 “battleground” states. The poll finds Bush receives 44 percent to Kerry’s 42 percent in these closely watched toss-up states.

The number of Kerry voters who say they “strongly support” their candidate has increased by seven percentage points in the last month. Today, 60 percent of Kerry voters say they strongly support him, up from 53 percent in June. Even though Kerry’s strength of support has gone up, support among Bush voters remains much more intense. Fully 76 percent of Bush voters say they support him strongly — about the same level since early March.

More voters think Bush would do a better job handling the war on terrorism by 50 percent to 35 percent. After being tied on the issue last month, Kerry now has the edge over Bush as the candidate voters think would do a better job on the economy (45 percent to 39 percent).

Bush has the advantage over Kerry on which candidate would do a better job on the country’s moral climate by 46 percent to 34 percent. However, when asked which party’s ticket “better shares the values of average Americans,” the Democratic Kerry-Edwards ticket has a narrow four-percentage point lead.

The poll also asked about several candidate attributes. Similar to previous polling results, Bush continues to have a significant advantage over Kerry on which candidate is a stronger leader (50 percent to 31 percent). Bush is still seen as “more likeable,” but Kerry is making gains here. Two months ago, Bush had a wide 19-point lead and today there is only a five-point gap between the candidates on which one is more likeable.

"More Likeable Person"
May June
Bush 49% 43%
Kerry 30 38

Kerry has a slight advantage over Bush on which candidate is a “better communicator.” The negative attribute of being a “flip-flopper,” a criticism of Kerry that Republicans have emphasized in campaign advertising, is sticking. Over half of voters say Kerry is the candidate more likely to “change positions” on the issues.

"As we've noted before, the constituencies for each candidate are remarkably polarized. Bush voters seem immune to most criticism of him; Kerry voters by and large ignore criticism of him. This helps explain why the fantastic amounts of money that have been spent on the campaign so far seem to have had so little impact," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "The polarization extends to an almost absurd level. When we asked people which comedian represents their values, Democrats willing to choose pick Whoopi Goldberg by a three-to-one margin over Dennis Miller; Republicans chose Miller by four-to-one. My personal opinion: that's ridiculous."

President Bush’s Job Rating

Opinion of the president’s job performance shows a slight dip this week, as 47 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove. President Bush’s average job rating for 2004 is 50 percent — the exact rating that many election followers believe an incumbent must be at or above to be re-elected. Republicans give their party leader an astronomical 90 percent approval rating. On the flip side of this polarized electorate, fully 78 percent of Democrats disapprove of Bush’s job performance.

Men are slightly more likely to approve of Bush’s job performance than women, and white voters are more than three times as likely as non-whites to approve.

The poll finds that by a narrow margin more voters say they are better off today than four years ago than say they are worse off. A 41 percent plurality says they are better off today, 32 percent say worse off and 26 percent say their financial situation is the same. These results show little movement from March. The partisan gap here is significant with 62 percent of Republicans saying they are better off compared to 33 percent of independents and only 28 percent of Democrats.

Iraq and the 9/11 Commission

A majority continues to support the United States having taken military action to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam from power. Today, 58 percent support and 37 percent oppose the action, which represents a small decline in support from about six weeks ago, but support is down from a high of 81 percent in the weeks following the start of major combat operations.

As on almost all issues this election year, the partisan differences on Iraq are striking. An overwhelming 92 percent majority of Republicans supports the action in Iraq compared to less than a third of Democrats (30 percent).

Americans are divided over how things are going in Iraq under the newly installed interim government — 37 percent say things are getting better and 35 percent say things are getting worse.

A slim 52 percent majority thinks centralizing management of the country’s intelligence agencies, a recommendation that came from the 9/11 commission today, would help make the country more secure, 16 percent say less secure and 12 percent think it would not make a difference.

Many Americans (59 percent) are confident that U.S. intelligence agencies have made improvements and would be able to prevent major terrorist attacks in the future, down from 62 percent in July 2003. About a third are skeptical that changes have been made to prevent a 9/11-type attack from happening again.

If a major terrorist attack were to take place before Election Day, about equal numbers of people say that would make them more likely to vote for Bush as say they would be less likely to back the incumbent. Not surprisingly, most Bush voters say they would be more likely to back him if there were an attack while most Kerry voters say they would be less likely to vote for Bush if an attack happens before November.

But what about voters who are either supporting an independent candidate or are undecided? This group splits about evenly into the three camps — 26 percent say they would be more likely to vote for Bush if there were a major terrorist attack before Election Day, 30 percent say less likely and 30 percent say it would not change their vote.

Instead of scaring people into staying home, by 61 percent to 21 percent, Americans say an attack before the election would motivate voters to get to the voting booth and voter turnout would actually be higher than usual, rather than making them reluctant to go to the polls.

Polling was conducted by telephone July 20-21, 2004 in the evenings. The total sample is 900 registered voters nationwide, with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points. There is a subsample of 767 likely voters (LV), with a margin of error of ±4 percentage points. Results are of registered voters, unless otherwise noted.

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

Pdf: Click here for full poll results.