TIME Poll: Campaign 2004

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New York President Bush's lead in the campaign for president has narrowed to 6% over rival John Kerry, the latest TIME poll shows. If the 2004 election for President were held today, 48% of likely voters surveyed say they would vote for President George W. Bush, 42% would vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry, and 5% would vote for Ralph Nader, according to the TIME poll conducted from Sept. 21 to 23. Just two weeks ago, Bush was up 11% after being deadlocked with Kerry in late August.

Poll results will appear in the upcoming issue of TIME magazine, on newsstands Monday, Sept. 27, and are available on TIME.com. See methodology below for sample size and margin of error.

Other results include:

Bush Iraq Credibility Gap:
President Bush now appears to have a credibility gap on his assessment of Iraq's progress since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Only 37% of registered voters say that Bush has been "truthful in describing the situation" in Iraq, while 55% say the "situation is worse than Bush has reported."

Majority Says World More Dangerous after U.S. actions in Iraq:
Echoing a major Kerry theme this week, half of the voters, 51%, now say that U.S. actions in Iraq have made the world more dangerous, while only 39% say the U.S. actions in Iraq have made the world safer. In early September, the TIME Poll had about equal numbers of "safer" (44%) and "more dangerous" (46%).

Support for War Weakens:
The latest wave of terrorist violence in Iraq has also dampened support for the war a bit, with 48% now saying the U.S. was right to go to war, down 5 points from two weeks ago, and 46% saying the U.S. was wrong. In early September 53% said the U.S. was right, 43% said wrong.

Bush has only a slight advantage over Kerry, 46% to 42%, as the candidate "most likely to bring a more successful end to the situation in Iraq."

Other Bush Slippage:
Bush's support has weakened slightly on almost all measures, with Kerry up ticking slightly.

— Re-election: Bush is back under 50% on whether he deserves to be re-elected. He's now at 47% who think he deserves re-election, while 49% say he doesn't deserve to be re-elected. Two weeks ago, those numbers were 52% deserves, 45% does not deserve.
— Right Track vs. Wrong Track: Over half of voters (51%) say the country is on the wrong track, while 43% say the country is headed in the right direction. Two weeks ago, almost equal numbers said wrong track (49%) and right direction (46%).
— Favorability: Bush's favorability ratings are also down to 49% favorable and 37% unfavorable— a five point slip in favorability in the past two weeks.
— Handling the Economy: Bush's approval rating on the economy is down 6 points, to 46% saying they approve to 49% who say they disapprove of his handling of the economy.
— War on Terrorism: Almost six in ten (57%) say they approve of Bush's handling of the war on terrorism to 39% who disapprove, but approval is down 4 points from two weeks ago.
— Iraq: voters are now evenly split, 48% approve to 48% who disapprove of his handling of Iraq. 52% said they approved of his handling of Iraq two weeks ago.

Kerry Regains Some Ground:
Kerry's favorable ratings returned to their early September levels, but are still down from the post-Democratic Convention period. Voters now rate him 42% favorable to 36% unfavorable. Two weeks ago, 43% of those surveyed had favorable opinions versus 42% with unfavorable opinions of him.

— The Economy: Bush and Kerry are tied, 44% to 44%, on who voters trust more to handle the economy. Kerry's numbers are identical to two weeks ago. Bush's numbers are down 6 points.
— War on terrorism: Voters trust Bush over Kerry by 18 points to handle the war on terrorism, 54% to 36%. However, two weeks ago, Bush had a 23-point lead.
— Understanding needs of people: Kerry has regained the lead as the candidate who most understands the "needs of people like yourself," 45% to Bush at 41%.
— Providing strong leadership in difficult times: Bush maintains a strong lead over Kerry, 56% to 35%, as the candidate who would provide strong leadership in difficult times, little changed from two weeks ago.

The Debates: Possible Turning Point
About 1 in 3 registered voters (35%) surveyed now plan to watch all of the debates, while another 49% plan to watch at least some. Among voters supporting Bush or Kerry now, 24% say that they might change their minds as a result of the debates.

Kerry's Support Slightly More At Risk: Among Bush supporters, 18% say they might change their minds as a result of the debates, while 25% of Kerry supporters say they might be swayed by the debate outcome.

'Movable' Voters Say Debates Could Be Deciding Factor: Among movable voters, that is, the 19% of voters who are undecided or might change their minds, the debates could be a deciding factor. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of movable voters say that they could make up their minds based upon the debate outcome.

Nader Supporters Might Change Minds: The debates could also be a critical factor for the current small number of Nader supporters. Over half of Nader supporters (58%) surveyed say they might change their minds as a result of the debates.

Who do voters expect to "win" the debates? They pick Bush over Kerry, 44% to 32%. Voters who recalled the 2000 debates thought Bush won over Gore, 50% to 30%.

Gender Politics:
Women Remain Split: Women voters remain evenly split between Bush (43%) and Kerry (44%). Kerry's formidable early August lead women, 50% - 36%, evaporated in early September.

Kerry Picks Up Support Among Men: Kerry has picked up some support among men, where he now trails by 8 points, 48% for Bush to 40% for Kerry. Two weeks ago, Bush had an even wider 14-point lead.

CBS Controversy:
More than 4 in 5 of voters surveyed (84%) saw or heard about the disputed CBS report that questioned George Bush's National Guard service record. Among voters aware of the report, 43% said the CBS report was an "honest mistake," but 40% said CBS was "deliberately trying to mislead the public."

Character Issues: Bush and Kerry
The candidates head to the debates almost even on key character issues. Both get strong scores in "understanding the issues" (60% Bush 64% Kerry) and on being likeable (68% Bush 64% Kerry). Only less than half believe that either candidate has "clear plans to help solve America's problems" (48% Bush 44% Kerry).

— Accurately Describes Candidate as:
Honest And Trustworthy
Bush: 55%
Kerry: 47%

Understands the issues
Bush: 60%
Kerry: 64%

Is Likeable
Bush: 68%
Kerry: 64%

Has good judgment
Bush: 53%
Kerry: 49%

Sticks to his positions
Bush: 84%
Kerry: 37%

Has clear plans to help solve Ame'ica's problems
Bush: 48%
Kerry: 44%

Sticking to His Positions: Kerry's biggest deficit versus Bush is"in "sticking to his positions." Only 37% say Kerry sticks to his positions, compared to 84% for Bush.

This TIME magazine poll was conducted by telephone September 21-23, 2004 among a random sample of 1,178 adults throughout the U.S. The random sample includes 1,014 reported registered voters and 877 likely voters. The margin of error for registered voters is approximately +/-3 percentage points. The margin of error for likely voters is approximately +/- 4% points. Likely voters reported party identifications are: 36% Republican, 31% Democratic, 24% Independents. Registered voters party affiliations are: 36% Republican, 30% Democratic, 24% Independent. 52% of respondents were female while 48% were male.

Presidential choice question based on likely voters. All other results, unless noted, based on registered voters. Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas (SRBI) Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing. The full TIME questionnaire and trend data may be found at www.srbi.com.

Ty Trippet, 212-522-3640
Jennifer Zawadzinski, 212-522-9046