WaPo: Bush 52, Kerry 43

Bush Gains Solid Lead, Poll Shows (WaPo)

President Bush emerged from his New York convention with a solid lead over Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, strengthening his position on virtually every important issue in the campaign and opening up a clear advantage over his rival on many of the personal characteristics that influence voters in presidential elections, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll. For the first time in a Post-ABC news poll this year, a majority of likely voters now say they plan to vote for Bush. Among those most likely to vote in November, Bush holds a 52 percent to 43 percent lead over Kerry, with independent Ralph Nader receiving 2 percent of the hypothetical vote. Among all registered voters, Bush leads Kerry 50 percent to 44 percent. A smaller sample in 19 battleground states, where strategists believe the election will be decided, Bush holds a narrower lead among likely voters, 50 percent to 46 percent. Among all voters, the two candidates are running even, suggesting that voter turnout again will be the key to victory in November.

The survey highlights the damage to Kerry during the month of August and the Republican convention. Bush got a 4-point “bounce” up in support among likely voters from his convention, about what Kerry received from his convention in July. But in other important ways, the poll suggests that Republicans achieved virtually all their objectives last week in New York, particularly in their goal of making Kerry less acceptable to voters.

What won’t be known for another few weeks is whether Bush’s gains are transitory, as Kerry’s were in the immediate aftermath of his convention. The setback to Kerry has generated concern among Democrats about the state of his candidacy, but four years ago, Bush trailed then vice president Al Gore by 8 points and later 10 points in tracking polls taken by the Gallup Organization in mid-September 2000 and came back to win the election. In the five weeks since the Democratic convention, Kerry’s favorability rating has plunged, after attacks on his Vietnam service from a group of anti-Kerry Vietnam veterans, self-inflicted wounds by the candidate over Iraq and a relentless pounding from Republicans. Kerry’s favorable rating fell from 51 percent at the beginning of August to just 36 percent in the latest Post-ABC News poll, while his unfavorable rating rose from 32 percent to 42 percent.

Bush’s favorable rating rose slightly to 51 percent and his overall approval rating rose another notch to 52 percent. An identical percentage said Bush deserves a second term. Strategists in both campaigns have watched Bush’s approval rating closely through the year as an indicator of his reelection prospects. That rating fell below 50 percent in May and has been inching its way back up over the summer. History suggests that Bush will be formidable in November if his approval rating remains in the low-50s, vulnerable if he is in the 40s.

Impressive indeed, especially since this is a likely voter poll. I’m amused by the constant references to how this could be “transitory.” Well, of course it could. It’s a poll. It should be noted, though, that the polling took place September 6-8, meaning the Republican Convention bounce has yet to dissipate.

The actual survey: Washington Post-ABC News Poll: Elections 2004

One question/result of note: “(IF NAMED CANDIDATE) Will you definitely vote for (CANDIDATE), or is there a chance you could change your mind and vote for someone else?” 88% of Bush supporters say they will definitely vote for him, versus 81% of Kerry supporters. Despite the conventional wisdom that Bush’s base support was stronger, it barely showed up in the WaPo poll trends until now.

The link also has trends and comparisons with similar points in the 2000 election.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.