Bush's Bounce

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For the first time since the presidential contest became a two-man race this spring, it seems to have a clear leader: President Bush. The latest TIME poll shows Bush leading his rival, John Kerry, 52% to 41%. Kerry's decline has coincided with the airing of television ads attacking his Vietnam War record and antiwar activism. Anxious Democrats say Kerry was not quick or aggressive enough in countering the largely unsubstantiated attacks on his record by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, but Kerry's drop in the polls also suggests continued confusion over his explanations of where he stands on Iraq. And a weekful of Republican Convention coverage has not helped. "We expect, as implied in the word bounce, that [Bush's] numbers will come down," says Kerry spokesman Joe Lockhart. Kerry returned to the campaign trail in Ohio immediately after the G.O.P. Convention ended and announced, "I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled the nation into Iraq." He has two months to prove that his response hasn't come too late.

If the election were held today, who would you vote for? (Asked of likely voters)

BUSH--52%
KERRY--41%

Which candidate do you trust more to handle each of the following areas?

The situation in Iraq
BUSH--53%
KERRY--41%

The war on terrorism
BUSH--57%
KERRY--36%

Providing strong leadership
BUSH--56%
KERRY--37%

Being Commander in Chief
BUSH--54%
KERRY--39%

Do you have a favorable opinion of
BUSH--52%
KERRY--43%

This TIME poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 31-Sept. 2 with 1,316 adult Americans by Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas (SRBI) Public Affairs. The random sample includes 1,128 reported registered voters (margin of error 3 percentage points) and 926 likely voters (margin of error 4 percentage points). The full TIME questionnaire and trend data may be found at www.srbi.com.