On being "likeable," a key strength for Bush in 2000, Bush now trails Kerry, 70% - 65%. (Bush had a slight 4 point lead on likeability before the debate.) Bush still leads Kerry by a wide margin, 81% - 42% on "sticking to his positions."
Just before the first debate last week, Bush was up by 6 points among likely voters in the TIME Poll. Kerry's win last Thursday (59%-23%) not only tied the race, but 30% of voters said that they were more likely to vote for Kerry because of the debate. This compares to only 14% more likely to vote for Bush.
A key reason for Kerry's resurgence was that he recaptured a large lead among female voters. Females now support Kerry over Bush by 12 points, 50%-38%. Pre-debate, the TIME Poll found women split evenly, 44% Kerry, 43% Bush. By contrast, in early August, Kerry led among women by 14 points. Bush is now up 16 points among males, 51% Bush, 35% Kerry.
Tuesday's vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and John Edwards had little impact, according to the TIME Poll. Despite Cheney's small winning edge over Edwards (33%-28%), equal numbers of voters said the debates made them more likely to vote for Bush (15%) or Kerry (16%), and 68% said it had no impact.
Cheney's major strength in the debate was on understanding of the issues. Voters gave the nod to Cheney here by 11 points, 47%-36%. However, Edwards beat Cheney by wide margins on being likeable, 54%-34%, and on taking positions close to the voter's own, 45%-41%. The candidates split evenly on being more believable, 44% for Cheney, 43% for Edwards.
The small numbers of undecided voters in the polls 3% in this week's poll have masked voter volatility: 1 in 10 current Kerry supporters (10%) say that they supported Bush at some point in the past few months. Only 5% of current Bush supporters say that they supported Kerry at some point recently.
Bush maintains a solid lead on being commander-in-chief and in fighting the war on terrorism, but his advantage has shrunk. (Commander-in-Chief: Bush leads Kerry by 9 points, 51%-42%; Bush's lead is down from 16 points before the debate. War on terrorism: Bush leads Kerry by 15 points, 53%-38%, down just slightly from an 18 point advantage pre-debate).
Kerry's performance rejuvenated his standing, particularly on domestic issues, the topic tonight. Kerry again leads Bush on handling the economy (49%-42%), health care (52%-36%) and understanding peoples' needs (49%-40%).
The candidates are now even on taxes, 45% Kerry to 43% Bush. Two weeks ago, Bush led 46%-40%.
Iraq: Voters Still Divided: Voters remain evenly divided on whether the U.S. was right (45%) or wrong (49%) to go to war with Iraq. Kerry's continuing attack on Bush's Iraq policy has therefore had only limited impact on changing voters' minds. However, Kerry's assault has clearly energized his support base, which strongly opposes the war. Voters give Bush a slight edge, Bush (44%), Kerry (39%) on having a better plan for dealing with Iraq.
Iraq, and homeland security: Bush leads Kerry by 8 points, 50%-42% (pre-debate, Bush led Kerry by 14 points). Almost half of voters say that America is not spending enough on the military (46%), with 41% saying the same about homeland security. About 1 in 3 say that we're spending the right amount now in each area. Half (53%) would support a tax increase if the money was used for homeland security.
Draft: A majority, 55%, believes that America does not have enough troops to meet its needs worldwide. However, most voters, 64%, opposed reinstating the draft to increase troop levels. 42% believe that Bush is likely to reinstate the draft if re-elected. Only 22% believe that Kerry is likely to reinstate the draft if elected.
Strong leadership: Bush is 14 points up over Kerry, 53%-39% (pre-debate, Bush was up by 21 points over Kerry).
Flip-flopper: Only 42% say that Kerry sticks to his positions, compared to 81% for Bush.
Job approval: Bush's approval rating is now 50% approve – 46% disapprove. (down from 53% approve – 43% disapprove pre-debate.)
Favorability: Kerry has also restored luster to his overall favorability rating, with a 50% favorable - 34% unfavorable rating, a +16 point difference. That's a sharp increase from the pre-debate TIME Poll, when his favorables were almost equal to his unfavorables, 42% - 36%. Kerry now beats Bush on favorability for the first time, with Bush now at 48% favorable – 42% unfavorable, a +6 point difference. Just prior to the debate, Bush‘s favorables over unfavorables were +12 points.
Most important issue: The economy (27%) has once again taken center stage; terrorism is second, at 21%, followed by Iraq (19%), health care (16%), and moral values issues (13%).
Character: Bush still leads Kerry by a wide margin, 81% - 42% on "sticking to his positions." On other measures, Bush and Kerry are now tied at 52% each on "honest and trustworthy." On "good judgment," Kerry is now up 5 points over Bush, 54% - 49%.
This TIME Magazine poll was conducted by telephone October 6-7, 2004 among a random sample of 1211 adults throughout America. The random sample includes 1024 reported registered voters and 886 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% Democrat, 32% Republican, 23% Independents. Registered voters party affiliations are 36% Democrat, 31% Republican, 24% Independent.
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.
TIME Contact: Diana Pearson, 212-522-0613