The race for the White House remains tight with the Democratic nominee receiving a small bump after his party's convention in Boston. In addition, little movement in the race can be expected in the remaining 90 days of the campaign as majorities of voters say they strongly support their candidate and that their minds are definitely made up, according to a FOX News poll released Thursday.
While not moving the race numbers much, the convention does appear to have improved Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry's (search) image with the public. At the same time, President George W. Bush's job approval rating is at the lowest point of his presidency.
The latest FOX News poll shows Kerry receives 46 percent to incumbent Bush's 43 percent in a head-to-head matchup among registered voters. The results are unchanged when independent candidate Ralph Nader (search) is added to the race, with two percent backing Nader, 46 percent Kerry and 42 percent Bush. Kerry's advantage is within the poll's three-percentage point margin of error.
In the two-way matchup, Kerry went from being dead even against Bush to having a three point edge. In the three-way race, Kerry went from being one-point behind to having a four-point advantage. And while the bump may be less than what the Democrats had hoped for, the 46 percent Kerry receives in the new poll is his best showing so far.
If Voting For President Today...
The polarized electorate, which has been evident in most polls since the 2000 election, shows little room for movement. Most voters say their current vote preference is definite, with one in five saying there is a chance they will change their mind.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national poll of 900 registered voters for Fox News on August 3-4.
Previously, polling showed men more likely to back Bush, while support among women broke in Kerry's favor. In the latest poll, Kerry increased his vote among men by six percentage points and is now even with Bush, while still holding a nine-point edge among women. The Democrat also increases his support somewhat among independent voters this week, up four points since before the convention.
One major difference between Bush voters and Kerry voters is the reason behind their vote choice. Among Bush supporters, a large majority (82 percent) describes their vote as "for Bush," with few (12 percent) saying their vote is "against Kerry." The results among Kerry voters are more evenly divided — a slim 53 percent majority describes their vote as "for Kerry" and 41 percent say it is a vote "against Bush."
Better Describes Vote for President
Where did Kerry make gains since his party's convention? The number of Kerry backers who say they support him "strongly" has increased the last couple of months, and that trend continues with a six point post-convention rise. Today, 66 percent of Kerry voters say they "strongly support" him, up from 60 percent before the convention and 53 percent in June.
Kerry's current level of "strong" support is now much closer to the high percentages President Bush has enjoyed for months. Fully 73 percent of Bush voters say they support him "strongly," which is down from 76 percent two weeks ago and from a high of 78 percent in May.
Another area where Kerry received a post-convention boost is on the attribute of "strong leader." While Bush still has a small advantage over Kerry as the candidate more voters see as being a strong leader, the gap is much narrower — Bush had a 19-point edge before the convention and today that has closed to four-percentage points.
Which Candidate "Is a Stronger Leader"?
Kerry made gains on other characteristics as well, including now holding a seven-point edge over Bush as the candidate seen as being "more honest and trustworthy," and an 11-point lead as the candidate who "understands the average American better."
Overall impressions of Kerry and his vice presidential running mate Senator John Edwards are more positive today. Kerry's favorable rating is up eight points and now stands at 52 percent — his highest favorable rating to date.
Edwards's favorable receives a similar boost and is now at 51 percent. Personal favorable ratings for President Bush (47 percent) and Vice President Dick Cheney (40 percent), are both down a few points from last month.
Current Impressions of the Candidates
President Bush's job performance rating dipped in the last two weeks, with 44 percent today saying they approve and 48 percent disapprove, which is the lowest job rating he has ever received in a Fox News poll. Bush lost ground among both men and women, but his approval rating also fell seven points among Republicans.
The poll asked voters to rate which candidate would do a better job on several issues being discussed in the campaign right now. Bush's biggest advantage is on handling the war on terrorism, where he has a six-point edge over Kerry, but that is down from a 15-point edge before the convention. On taxes and handling the situation in Iraq, the candidates are tied.
Kerry does best on the domestic issues. By 47 percent to 34 percent Kerry outdoes Bush on the issue of education, widening his lead here by nine points since June. In addition, Kerry has an 18-point lead over Bush as the candidate who would do a better job on health care. On the top priority issue to voters in this year's presidential election — the economy — Kerry now has the edge over Bush (44 percent to 36 percent).
"What we see post-convention is actually a strengthening of the polarization in the electorate. Kerry voters are now more confident in their man and more committed to him," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "The ability of the Bush campaign to paint Kerry with a negative brush has been diminished and so has the chance for any major electoral movement. Given the closeness of the race, this may diminish the value of trying to use television to persuade voters and enhance the value of traditional get-out-the-vote efforts. With roughly equal numbers of voters on each side, getting them to the polls becomes crucial."
Ratings on the nation's economy have improved somewhat since three months ago. Today, 36 percent of Americans rate the economy positively, up from 31 percent in May.
When voters pick which one issue will be most important in deciding their presidential vote preference, the economy continues to top the list (25 percent), followed closely by terrorism/homeland security (22 percent). Health care comes in third at 18 percent, followed by Iraq (14 percent), education (10 percent) and taxes (three percent).
A 52 percent majority thinks President Bush has a clear plan for protecting the country from terrorism, but a 56 percent majority thinks he does not have a plan for protecting jobs, and half of voters do not think Bush has a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq.
When asked the same questions about Kerry, the Democratic challenger does best on having a clear plan for protecting jobs in the United States, as just over half (51 percent) think he does. On terrorism and Iraq, pluralities say Kerry does not have a clear plan, but it should also be noted that on both of these about one in five are unable to give an opinion.
By 43 percent to 34 percent, voters think it would be bad for the United States to change presidents during a war, with 17 percent saying it would not make a difference. Predictable party differences are seen here, with 76 percent of Republicans saying it would be bad for the country to change presidents during wartime compared to 17 percent of Democrats who think so.
War on Terrorism and the 9/11 Commission
As the presidential candidates and Congress begin to debate the recommendations made by the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, the poll asked voters about their familiarity with the recommendations. A majority says they are familiar with the Commission's proposals (15 percent "very familiar" and 44 percent "somewhat familiar"), while almost four in 10 say they are unfamiliar.
One of the recommendations is to create the position of national intelligence director to coordinate the activities of all U.S. intelligence agencies. Many Americans (52 percent) think it is likely the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented, had there been a national intelligence director.
Even with the poll being conducted after the recent increase in the terror alert level in areas of the East Coast, more than half of Americans (52 percent) think the United States is safer today than before 9/11 (down from 58 percent in March). Over a quarter think the country is less safe and 15 percent say there has been no change.
And while some Democrats have questioned the timing of raising the terror alert, only about a quarter of Americans (28 percent) think the new terror alert warnings were "politically motivated." Half of Americans think the action was taken based on "real intelligence," and 12 percent say "some of both."
A large majority of Republicans (73 percent) thinks raising the alert level was based on real intelligence, as do 33 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of independents. Only 13 percent of Republicans think the action was politically motivated, compared to 40 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of independents.