WASHINGTON – More voters consider President Bush a strong leader who can do a better job combatting terrorism even though they widely agree that Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) won the first debate focused solely on foreign policy.
The Republican incumbent has a slight lead over Kerry — 49 percent to 44 percent — among likely voters questioned in the Pew Research Center (search) poll released Monday. Several surveys conducted after last Thursday's debate showed the race even.
Bush and Kerry were running even at 47 percent apiece in a CBS-New York Times poll, and Bush was slightly up in an ABC-Washington Post poll out Monday.
The Pew poll of 810 likely voters showed Kerry gaining strength against Bush through the weekend. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters who saw the debate said Kerry did a better job than the president.
But almost half of the 1,002 registered voters in the poll — 48 percent — said Kerry changes his mind too much to be a good commander in chief and four in 10 say he would give allies too much say in foreign policy decisions.
More saw Bush as a strong leader — 57 percent to 32 percent — and they preferred the incumbent on defending the country from terrorism by the same margin. Bush was slightly stronger on handling Iraq while Kerry had the edge on domestic issues like the economy and health care.
But more than half — 55 percent — said they don't think the president has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.
Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said the poll suggests "the public images of these candidates are fairly locked in. One night doesn't appear to be doing it, even though it was a very good night for John Kerry in the eyes of the voters."
Kohut said the Democrat "still has a lot of work to do, but it's still very much a horse race."
The Pew poll of 1,002 registered voters, including 810 likely voters, was taken Oct. 1-3 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus 4 percentage points for likely voters.