-- President George W. Bush has accomplished what challenger Senator John Kerry could not: He successfully used his party's convention to boost his standing in terms of both the public's view of his personal qualifications and total share of the vote.
POLITICAL STUDY (INCLUDES ADDITIONAL SAMPLE)
Bush-Cheney Break Longstanding Tie
Since John Kerry became the Democratic Party's de facto nominee in March, the two parties' candidates have been running in a statistical tie. While Kerry was able to use the Democratic convention to improve the public's views of his personal qualities and lock in his existing supporters (see below), he did not virtually gain any additional net votes between the July and August surveys.
By contrast, this first AP/Ipsos poll conducted after the Republican convention shows that Bush and Cheney have increased their support among all registered voters by 6 percentage points, thus pulling significantly ahead of Kerry-Edwards for the first time (51%, 43% for Kerry-Edwards).
The edge gained by the Republican ticket is even wider when looking at likely voters (52% Bush-Cheney, 43% Kerry-Edwards). As noted in previous Ipsos-Public Affairs reports, if Kerry wants to pull ahead of the incumbent, he would need to mobilize his soft supporters - people who are generally the least likely to be relied upon to come out on election day - less well-educated, working class women, and especially those in the South.
Majorities of gun-owners (69%), people who attend religious services weekly (61%) and who are or live in a household with a veteran (58%) all support Bush-Cheney.
Among registered voters, "persuadables" who support neither candidate strongly or are undecided, have swung slightly from supporting Kerry last month (38% Bush, 45% Kerry) to being evenly split now (43% Bush, 39% Kerry).
Patterns Of Change In Bush Support
Support for Bush-Cheney has particularly risen among:
Security Issues Work To Bush's Favor
- Those aged 50-64 (52%; from 44% in August).
- Whites (57%, from 50%); non-whites continue to favor Kerry (24% Bush, 67% Kerry).
- People with a high school education or less (52%, from 41%), especially men (55%, from 40%) - this tends to be a changeable group.
- The South (58%, from 46%), and the Oil Patch in particular (69%, from 48%).
- Rural residents (59%, from 48%).
- People with moderate household incomes.
Compared to this time last month, Americans are slightly more likely to approve of Bush's overall job as President (52%; +3 points), his handling of the economy (50%, +4 points), and also his foreign policy and the war on terrorism (54%, +3 points).
While the public at large remains fairly divided over Bush's performance, the administration has been able to refocus voters' attention away from economic issues, where Kerry has tended to be seen as stronger, and toward national security issues where Bush has had the advantage.
CANDIDATE QUALITIES STUDY (REGULAR SAMPLE ONLY)
Security Issues Gain Importance As Election Issue
In March of this year, the economy and jobs (35%) topped the list among registered voters as the issue most likely to influence how they vote in November; another 16% named health care. A third named either national security (22%) or the war in Iraq (11%) as the most important issues. Now, when presented with the same list, registered voters are evenly divided between those who emphasize national security (30%) and Iraq (17%) and those who prioritize the economy (30%) and health care (13%).
Men under 45 tend to give top priority to jobs and the economy (39%) while men over 45 stress national security (36%). In addition to the economy, security and Iraq, women under 45 place more importance on education (11%); a quarter (24%) of women 45 and over say health care will be the most important issue in deciding how they will vote.
Most (87%) of those who say national security issues will define their vote prefer Bush-Cheney. Kerry-Edward leads among those who say the economy and jobs (62%), health care (59%) and the war in Iraq (54%) are their top issues, but the Democratic team does not dominate these issues the way Bush-Cheney captures national security voters.
When deciding which presidential candidate to support, two-thirds (64%) of voters say protecting the country is a more important issue than creating jobs (31%).
Under these priorities, Bush clearly has an edge over Kerry. Six in ten (59%) say Bush would do a better job protecting the country than Kerry (36%) -- a 23 point advantage for the incumbent.
So far in this campaign, John Kerry has had an advantage over Bush on the jobs front. While Kerry (50%) still has a lead over Bush (44%) on being better able to create jobs, this advantage has narrowed since early August (+6, down from +16).
Voters Say Issues More Important Than Personal Qualities
By a narrow majority, registered voters say that when choosing a presidential candidate, their positions on specific issues (55%) are more important than their personal qualities such as experience and leadership ability (43%). Senior citizens age 65 and up are most likely to place importance on personal qualities (57%), while voters under 30 say issues matter most (69%). However, an even more interesting split is that those who stress personal qualities support Bush-Cheney (65%), while people who say issues are most important favor Kerry-Edwards by a narrow majority (52%).
Voters do have ideas about the characteristics they prefer in candidates. Not surprisingly, honesty (38%) tops the list, followed by intelligence, decisiveness, and strength. Voters who want an honest candidate are give a slight lead to Bush-Cheney (53%) over Kerry-Edwards (41%), while those who prefer a decisive (74%) and strong (71%) candidate mostly back Bush-Cheney. Kerry-Edwards lead among those who want an intelligent candidate (72%). Few respondents say it is most important that a candidate be likeable.
However, this list isn't necessarily in synch with voters' priorities. Bush (56%) and Kerry (54%) are even in respect to their perceived honesty, and a wider majority describe Kerry (84%) as intelligent than Bush (63%). However, more say Bush (73%) is "strong" than say Kerry is (54%), and Bush (75%) has a huge advantage over Kerry (37%) on being seen as decisive.
Looking at trends over the past few months, Kerry came out of the Democratic convention with improved standings on honesty and likeability, yet lagged Bush on decisiveness and strength. A month on, Kerry has generally fallen back to July levels and is now seen as less decisive (37%; 45% in July).
Bush went into the Republican convention with strong numbers, and has held steady or gained ground, particularly on being decisive (75%, from 68%). Even on his weakest quality, a majority (56%) say Bush is honest (43% say he is not).
Bush Leads Kerry On Values
Voters are somewhat more likely to say Bush (57%) shares their values than say Kerry does (47%). Independents (those that identify with neither party) are split on whether Bush (46% yes, 48% no) and Kerry (45%-46%) share their values; persuadable voters tend to say both do (Bush 55%; Kerry 51%).
REGISTERED VOTERS/PARTY IDENTIFICATION (INCLUDES ADDITIONAL SAMPLE)
More Favorable Environment For Republicans
Americans continue to say the country is headed down the wrong track (52%), rather than in the right direction (44%). However, the gap has narrowed since last month, with optimism higher than at any point since the presidential race took shape last March. Likely voters are even more closely divided (48% right direction, 49% wrong track).
In recent months, there has been a narrow preference for Democratic control of Congress. Now, registered voters and likely voters both express a narrow preference for Republican control. Similarly, more registered voters now (49%) than a month ago (43%) identify themselves as Republicans, and the number of self-identified Democrats has declined (45% now, 51% in early August).
Two-thirds of Americans say they have quite a bit (31%) or a great deal of interest (36%) in the news about the campaign for President. Most strong Bush-Cheney (76%) and Kerry-Edwards (81%) supporters have interest in the campaign, as do two-thirds (65%) of weak Kerry backers and half (51%) of weak Bush supporters. Independents (52%) and undecided voters (55%) tend to be paying "only some" or less attention.
The Associated Press Poll is conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Between September 7-9, 2004, the AP/Ipsos poll interviewed a representative sample of 1,541 adults nationwide, including 1,268 registered voters. The margin of error is +/- 2.5 for all adults, +/- 2.7 for registered voters. Margin of error for subgroups may be higher.
To view the complete filled-in questionnaire for this survey, please click on the Topline Results pdf at the top of this page.
For more information on this press release, please contact:
Director, Ipsos Public Affairs
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