Just a Week Out, Voters Prefer President Bush, But Only Narrowly
Bush goes into the last week of the campaign with a narrowing
lead over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and weak job approval, but
he scores well on character as well as terrorism and Iraq, which
voters say are their top concerns.
the conclusions I draw from the avalanche of polls released over
the past week. Kerry's hope has to be that, at the end of the
day, voters think that jobs and health care are more important
than foreign policy and are fed up with Bush's performance across
average of nine national polls taken Oct. 17-24 gave Bush a 48.7
percent to 45.8 percent lead over Kerry, with Ralph Nader coming
in at 1.4 percent. In a two-way race, Bush led by 3.2 points.
Bush led Kerry in all but one of the latest surveys, The Associated
Press/Ipsos poll, which showed Kerry ahead by 3 points.
The bad news
for Bush lay in the polling trend, his job approval numbers, the
right track-wrong track figure and the University of Michigan
Consumer Confidence Index, all of which have a history of forecasting
winners and losers.Bush's Monday lead of 2.9 percent was down
from 3.8 percent two weeks ago. The Washington Post/ABC daily
track showed Bush's lead dropping from 5 points to 1 point at
the end of last week.
When an incumbent
president goes into an election with a Michigan index below 90,
he's in trouble. Last week, it was 87.5. Presidents are also in
trouble when the right-track number is below 40 in late October.
Last week, the NBC poll put it at 39.
pushed Bush's overall job approval back up to 50.1 percent, but
last week it was at 48.8. The "JA" number traditionally
approximates a president's share of the popular vote.
though, we are in never-never land. At this point, among the presidents
who've lost, Gerald Ford dropped from a 47 percent approval rating
to 44 in Gallup polls in the week before the election. Jimmy Carter
was at 37 percent, and George H.W. Bush was at 33 percent.
recent presidents who've won, Ronald Reagan had a 58 percent approval
rating and Bill Clinton, 54 percent - well above the 50 percent
mark. For just-under or just-over, there's no precedent.
to be of some comfort to Bush - but not a lot - that in the three
cases when incumbents lost, late-October polls showed them already
trailing their challengers. Carter was beating Ford 49-44 in 1976.
Bill Clinton was ahead of Bush's father in 1992 by 44-35.
Carter led Reagan going into their only debate, 45-42, on Oct.
29. The debate flipped the race and Reagan went into the last
days of the campaign leading 46-43. He ultimately won in a landslide,
polls show that voters are not very happy with Bush's performance
across the board. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed his
approval on the economy at only 45 percent; on foreign policy
generally, at 48 percent; and on the war on terrorism at a bare
The Pew Research
Center poll showed that only 37 percent of voters approve of Bush's
handling of the war in Iraq and that only 46 percent now believe
that using force there was the right thing to do, a drop of 7
points since September. Such results could produce a victory for
Kerry if his aides' theory of the race is correct - that when
an incumbent is running for another term, the election becomes
a referendum on his performance.
campaign has always viewed this election differently - as a choice
between two candidates. The polls give Bush lots of reasons to
think he'll win. On practically every comparison of the two candidates
on issues and character, the polls show that Bush comes out ahead
or reasonably close to Kerry. And, in most of the polls, terrorism
and Iraq are listed at the top of the public's agenda, giving
Bush a major advantage.
News asked voters to choose which issue was more important to
them, national security or the nation's economy, they chose security,
46 to 39. Similarly, in The Washington Post poll, 27 percent said
that the economy was their most important issue, compared to a
combined 45 percent for terrorism and Iraq.
And on most
of the issues, the polls show that the public prefers Bush over
Kerry. In the latest bipartisan Battleground Survey, Bush led
Kerry on Iraq by 52-41. On terrorism, 56-35. On creating jobs,
Kerry led by 51-40, but on "keeping America prosperous,"
he was ahead by just 1 point. All polls show Kerry with a solid
lead on health care.
crucial to me is whom the voters basically trust. And on this,
Bush virtually sweeps. In the NBC poll, 44 percent of voters have
confidence in Kerry as commander in chief. Forty-eight percent
do not. In Bush's case, 51 percent do, 29 percent don't.
to a terrorist attack, voters break 46-47 on confidence in Kerry,
65-29 for Bush.
questions, Bush beats Kerry 57-19 on "being consistent and
standing up for his beliefs"; 48-33 on "having the strong
leadership qualities needed to be president"; and 43-29 on
"having high personal standards that set the proper moral
tone for the country."
The NBC poll
showed that voters think Kerry is more intelligent, 46-24, but
Kerry beats Bush by only 39-38 on "being compassionate enough
to understand average people." And the two are virtually
tied on "being a world leader in dealing with other countries."
confirm that voters carry these impressions in their heads. And,
when voters are asked who they think will actually win the election,
they tend to say "Bush." If I had to predict now, I'd
say Bush, too. But I don't have to.