NEW YORK – President George W. Bush is trusted on moral leadership and seen as the better candidate to handle terrorism and Iraq, and Democrat John Kerry (search) is strong on the issues of health care and the economy. Overall, Bush holds his post-convention edge over Kerry, a FOX News poll finds, though the presidential race remains tight.
The new national poll of likely voters shows Bush ahead of Kerry by 45 percent to 43 percent. In the three-way matchup Bush is backed by 46 percent of voters, Kerry 42 percent and independent candidate Ralph Nader (search) one percent. The results are well within the poll's margin of error, and show just how divided the national electorate continues to be.
The poll finds Bush not only receives strong support from his core constituencies such as Republicans (92 percent), those living in the South (52 percent), and men (48 percent), but that he also cuts into his challenger's support among women — a voting group that has traditionally backed the Democratic candidate.
In 2000, over half of women voted for former Vice President Al Gore (search) over Bush (54 percent to 43 percent), and in recent polls Kerry has held a slim lead among women. Today Bush slightly edges out Kerry among female voters: 44 percent to 42 percent.
Kerry receives some of his strongest support from young voters (57 percent), non-whites (62 percent), and those living in the West (49 percent).
Throughout the campaign the intensity of support has been higher among Bush voters than Kerry voters, but Kerry's numbers have been improving steadily. Today, over three-quarters of Bush voters (76 percent) say they support him "strongly," which is about where it has been for the last few months. Among Kerry voters, 72 percent support him "strongly" today, up from 64 percent a month ago.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national poll of 1000 likely voters for FOX News on September 21-22. "Likely voters" are defined as respondents who are considered more likely to vote in the November presidential election.
Another area where the polarization of the electorate is clearly illustrated is the president's job approval rating. Voters are almost evenly divided — 50 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing as president. Fifty-two percent of men and 48 percent of women give Bush a thumbs-up, as do 92 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of independents.
After two weeks of heavy campaigning by both candidates and daily reports of ongoing insurgent attacks in Iraq, there is little to no movement among voters on which candidate is considered best suited to handle the top issues. Voters continue to say Bush would do a better job handling the situation in Iraq by 48 percent to 37 percent, and he also keeps the advantage on handling the war on terrorism (51 percent to 36 percent).
Kerry has a significant lead over Bush as the better candidate to handle health care (48 percent to 36 percent) and a very slight edge on the economy (44 percent to 43 percent).
Similarly, more voters think Bush has a clear plan for managing the situation in Iraq and for protecting the country from terrorism than think Kerry does. On domestic issues Kerry bests Bush, as more voters think he has a clear plan for protecting jobs and handling health care.
Do you think Bush/Kerry has a clear plan for:
|Bush Does||Kerry Does|
|• Handling Iraq?||43%||34%|
|• Protecting U.S. from terrorism?||54%||39%|
|• Creating and protecting jobs?||38%||49%|
|• Handling health care?||35%||47%|
President Bush has a big lead on candidate characteristics, including a 10-percentage point lead over Kerry on which candidate voters think is a "more likeable person." In addition, by 46 percent to 40 percent, voters trust Bush to "provide the country with moral leadership," and by 46 percent to 37 percent the president is viewed as "more likely to keep his word." The candidates are evenly matched on which "has a better vision for the future of the country."
"This campaign continues to be a tight one," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "The prospect of another election night like the one in 2000 is certainly a possibility. We may not know who wins until recounts in one or more states are completed."
Views on the economy show a mixed bag, with personal finances being viewed positively while the nation's job situation is seen as weakening. A 59-percent majority rates their personal financial situation as excellent (15 percent) or good (44 percent), which is essentially unchanged from previous polls conducted this year.
There are striking partisan differences on views of the economy. Fully 77 percent of Republicans rate their finances positively and 20 percent negatively, while Democrats are evenly divided (49 percent positive and 48 percent negative).
Overall, a 39-percent plurality says the job situation is getting worse, up from 26 percent in June, and 25 percent say it is getting better, down from 31 percent. Sen. Kerry has been emphasizing job loss in campaign speeches and advertising.
Opinion is split on whether the Bush administration tax cuts have helped or hurt the nation's economy (35 percent and 32 percent respectively). A quarter says the tax cuts have made no difference. Republicans are seven times more likely than Democrats to say the cuts have had a positive influence on the economy.
Even as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue fiercely to battle insurgents, support for having taken military action to disarm Iraq has increased in the last two months. Today, 63 percent of voters support the U.S. action, up from 58 percent in July and 60 percent in June. Just under a third (32 percent) oppose the U.S. decision to take military action.
When asked how things are going in Iraq since the June 30 handover of power, a clear majority (60 percent) says things are going badly, including 36 percent that say "very badly," while 35 percent say things are going well. Most voters think the future of democracy in Iraq is more the responsibility of the Iraqi people (69 percent) than the United States (seven percent), with 17 percent saying "both."
• Pdf: Click here for full poll results.