[Marxism] Bush edges ahead of Kerry in poll as war campaigning heats up

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Aug 26 06:49:03 MDT 2004


THE TIMES POLL
Bush Edges Ahead of Kerry for the 1st Time
 The president gains in several measurements but remains in a
statistical tie. Ads on the senator's war record seem to have an effect.

  
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August 26, 2004
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By Ronald Brownstein, Times Staff Writer


WASHINGTON - President Bush heads into next week's Republican National
Convention with voters moving slightly in his direction since July amid
signs that Sen. John F. Kerry has been nicked by attacks on his service
in Vietnam, a Times poll has found.

For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the
presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with
46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic
convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over
Bush.

That small shift from July was within the poll's margin of error. But it
fit with other findings in the Times poll showing the electorate edging
toward Bush over the past month on a broad range of measures, from
support for his handling of Iraq to confidence in his leadership and
honesty.

Although a solid majority of Americans say they believe Kerry served
honorably in Vietnam, the poll showed that the attacks on the senator
from a group of Vietnam veterans criticizing his performance in combat
and his antiwar protests at home have left some marks: Kerry suffered
small but consistent erosion compared with July on questions relating to
his Vietnam experience, his honesty and his fitness to serve as
commander in chief.

The Times Poll, supervised by polling director Susan Pinkus, interviewed
1,597 adults, including 1,352 registered voters nationwide, from
Saturday through Tuesday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or
minus 3 percentage points.

With independent voters splitting evenly in the survey between the two
men, one key to Bush's tentative new advantage was his greater success
at consolidating his base. While 3% of voters who called themselves
Republicans said they would vote for Kerry, Bush drew 15% of all
Democrats, and 20% of Democrats who consider themselves moderate or
conservative, the poll found.

Bush's advantage remained 3 percentage points when independent candidate
Ralph Nader was added to the mix. In a three-way race, Bush drew 47%,
compared with 44% for Kerry and 3% for Nader, whose access to the ballot
in many key states remains uncertain.

For all the promising signs for Bush, the poll found the president still
threatened by a current of uneasiness about the nation's direction. In
the survey, a slight majority of voters said they believed the country
was on the wrong track. A majority also said the country was not better
off because of his policies and needed to set a new course. And 45% said
they believed his policies had hurt rather than helped the economy.

Those results suggested that a substantial part of the electorate
remained open to change. But amid the firefight over Kerry's Vietnam
service and uncertainty about his policy plans, the Democrat still has
not built a constituency for his candidacy as large as the audience for
change in general, the poll suggested. Nearly 1 in 5 voters who say the
country needs to change policy direction is not supporting Kerry,
according to the poll.

Pamela Sundberg, a disabled paralegal from Moorhead, Minn., who
responded to the survey, crystallized the conflicting emotions among
those drawn toward change but still resisting Kerry.

Sundberg voted for Bush in 2000, but now feels "we got ourselves in a
mess in Iraq," where her son has been serving. She is dubious about
Kerry, saying that "he's so back-and-forth about things."

But while leaning toward Bush now, she can envision switching to Kerry
by November. "Maybe just for a change, he should be elected," she said.

Swift Boat Divide

The country divides mostly along predictable partisan lines on the
exchanges between Kerry and the group that has attacked his Vietnam
record over the past month, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But by
several measures, the struggle appears to be drawing some blood from
Kerry.

The Swift boat group, which has received funding from several of Bush's
supporters and advice from some veteran Republican operatives, has made
only relatively small purchases of television time in a few battleground
states for its two ads, the first charging that Kerry did not deserve
some of the five medals he won in Vietnam and the second criticizing his
antiwar testimony before the Senate in 1971.

But with the controversy attracting intense media attention, especially
on talk radio and cable television, the ads have achieved extraordinary
visibility among voters. Fully 48% of those polled said they had seen
the ad accusing Kerry of lying to win his medals; an additional 20% said
they had heard about it. Similarly, 44% said they had seen the ad
criticizing Kerry's Senate testimony; another 17% said they had heard
about it.

At the same time, 18% of those surveyed said they "believe that Kerry
misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals,"
while 58% said Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" the medals.

Attitudes on that question divided along party lines. As many
Republicans said they believed Kerry was lying as believed he fought
honorably. By nearly 10 to 1, Democrats said Kerry served honorably.

Independents sided with Kerry in the dispute by more than 5 to 1. Among
them was Monika Schiel, a retiree in Gardena, Calif. "You have all the
people that were on Kerry's boat-not somewhere downstream or
upstream-confirming what he said," said Schiel. "This is some typical
smear stuff; it seems mostly done by Republicans."

When voters were asked whether Kerry's protest against the war when he
returned from Vietnam would influence their vote, 20% said it made them
more likely to support him, while 26% said it reduced the chance they
would back him, and 52% said it made no difference.

But if Kerry showed relatively few bruises on these questions directly
measuring reactions to the veterans' charges against him, indirect
measures suggested he had suffered more damage.

Asked how Kerry's overall military experience would affect their vote,
23% said it made them more likely to vote for him, while 21% said it
made them less likely; the remaining 53% said it would make no
difference. That has to be a disappointment for the Kerry camp after a
Democratic convention last month that placed Kerry's Vietnam service at
the top of the marquee.

Two other key questions produced even more troubling results for Kerry.

In the July Times poll, 53% of voters said Kerry had demonstrated in his
Vietnam combat missions the "qualities America needs in a president,"
while 32% said that by "protesting the war in Vietnam, John Kerry
demonstrated a judgment and belief that is inappropriate in a
president."

In the August survey, that balance nudged away from Kerry, with 48%
saying he had demonstrated the right qualities and 37% saying he had
exhibited poor judgment.

Likewise, the share of voters saying they lacked confidence in Kerry as
a potential commander in chief edged up from 39% in July to 43% now; the
percentage that said they were confident in him slipped from 57% to 55%.
Both changes were within the poll's margin of error, yet both tracked
with the poll's general pattern of slight Kerry slippage.

Similar trends were evident on voters' assessments of the two men's
personal qualities. Compared with July, Bush slightly widened his
advantage over Kerry when voters were asked which was a strong leader
and which had the honesty and integrity to serve as president.

Following the poll's general trend, the percentage of voters who said
they viewed Kerry favorably slipped from 58% in July to 53% in August,
while the percentage who viewed him unfavorably ticked up from 36% to
41%. Bush's ratings were virtually unchanged from last month in this
poll, with 53% viewing him favorably and 46% unfavorably.

The poll spotlighted another challenge for Kerry. After a Democratic
convention that focused much more on Kerry's biography than his agenda,
58% said they knew even a fair amount about the policies he would pursue
as president; nearly 4 in 10 said they knew not much or nothing at all.

By comparison, although Bush has put forward few specifics about his
second-term priorities, 70% said they had a good idea of the policies he
would pursue.

Bush Holding His Own

Compared with the trend of modest erosion for Kerry in the poll, Bush
either slightly gained ground or stabilized his position on several
measures.

Bush's overall approval rating, which many analysts consider the best
single gauge of his prospects in November, stood at 52%, with 47%
disapproving; the numbers last month were 51% to 48%.

Bush's approval rating on the economy, at 46%, hardly budged from July.
But the percentage of voters who gave him positive marks on Iraq did
bump up from 44% in July to 48% now, with 50% disapproving.

Asked if the situation in Iraq was worth launching the war over, 46%
said yes and 49% said no; last month the numbers were 44% and 51%.

"We should have done it a long time ago, eight to 10 years ago, and we
probably wouldn't have had 9/11," said Gene Cox, a small-business owner
and veteran from Crestview, Fla., who is supporting Bush.

Yet warning signs continue to blink at Bush. Fully 54% of voters said
the country was not better off because of Bush's policies and that it
should move in a new direction - although that represented an
improvement for Bush from the 59% who felt that way last month.

Asked if Bush deserved reelection, 47% of voters said yes and 49% said
no. By contrast, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, the last two presidents
who won a second term, polled 56% and 57% on that question,
respectively, in other polls at roughly this time in their campaigns.

While 45% of those polled said Bush's economic policies had left the
country worse off, 27% believed they had improved conditions.
Independents fell on the negative side of that ledger by nearly 3 to 1.
And 52% of all voters said the country was heading down the wrong track.

Voters were far more likely to identify Bush than Kerry as inflexible
and unwilling to admit his mistakes. Pluralities picked Kerry over Bush
when asked which man had better ideas for strengthening the economy and
which was more likely "to build respect for the United States around the
world."

"While America has had an image problem for decades, it's never been
this low," said Grace Russo Bullaro, an independent and college
professor from Syosset, N.Y., who did not vote in 2000 but planned to
support Kerry this fall. "The world is now afraid that Bush is going to
blow us up."

Since last month's poll, Bush has gained in the race against Kerry
across a broad range of groups.

But Bush's greatest strides have come among groups that tend to hold
more culturally conservative views, among them: voters earning less than
$40,000 a year, those without college educations, married women, and
voters living in small towns or rural communities. By contrast, since
July, Bush has made almost no progress, or has lost ground, among
constituencies that typically hold more socially moderate views: college
graduates, more affluent families and suburbanites.

The Democrats picking Bush over Kerry in the poll tended to fit that
profile as well, with Kerry suffering his greatest defections among
Democrats without college degrees, those who own guns, and those who
call themselves conservative, live in rural areas or are married.

All of this may offer more indirect evidence that the Vietnam-era
charges are hurting Kerry with socially conservative constituencies that
both sides covet.

One potential bright spot for Kerry: The 5% of voters who said they were
undecided were overwhelmingly negative on the direction of the country,
the impact of Bush's policies and the decision to invade Iraq.

Those voters were also much more likely than the electorate overall to
say Kerry's service in Vietnam "demonstrated qualities America needs in
a president." And they were less likely to see Kerry's protests when he
returned as a sign of flawed judgment.

That could make them a receptive audience as Kerry fights to regain his
balance from the Swift boat veterans' offensive, even as Bush approaches
the stage for his convention.





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