John Kerry (search) is heading to his party's national convention with Democrats faring better with the public on both domestic and international issues, according to a poll released Wednesday. But Kerry remains locked in a tie in the presidential race.

When people are asked which party would do a better job of handling a given issue, Democrats are now 12 points up on handling the economy and have an even larger lead on issues from education to health care and the environment, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (search).

They are about even with Republicans on which party would do the better job on Iraq and foreign policy and are almost even with the GOP on which party is stronger on the issue of morality.

Republicans are stronger than Democrats on the issue of fighting terrorism.

Despite the Democrats' strong position, Kerry and running mate John Edwards remain in a tie with President Bush (search) and Vice President Dick Cheney. Kerry and Edwards are at 46 percent, Bush and Cheney at 44 percent, and Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo at 3 percent.

The best news for Bush and the Republicans is that the GOP remains united behind the president.

"The most important thing in this poll is that Kerry is entering the Democratic convention with things breaking his way, even though he remains in a tie for voter support," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Iraq has become the top issue for the public and Bush's public support on Iraq has not improved, even though the United States and its allies turned over authority to Iraqis in June.

Just over four in 10, 42 percent, approve of the president's handling of Iraq — at the same low levels it has been in recent weeks.

Voters generally, and especially Democrats, have become more optimistic about Kerry's chances of winning in November. The public gives Bush a slight edge on his chances of winning, but they split 2-1 on a Bush victory just two months ago.

And Democrats are in a commanding position on the public's preference on specific issues:

—Leading Republicans by 50-23 on which party is more trusted to handle health care.

—Leading Republicans by 45-29 on handling education, a traditional Democratic issue that Republicans neutralized early in Bush's term.

—Leading Republicans by 46-34 on handling the economy.

—Tied with Republicans on handling of Iraq.

—Tied with Republicans on handling foreign policy.

—Trailing Republicans 45-30 on handling the campaign against terrorism.

"Kerry's party has improved its image on just about all key issues," Kohut said. "And rank-and-file Democrats are increasingly unified and optimistic about their chances in November."

The poll of 2,009 adults, including 1,568 registered voters, was taken July 8-18 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, slightly higher for registered voters.