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Likely Voters Narrowly Prefer Bush to Pick Justices

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2004; 5:00 PM

Likely voters narrowly prefer President Bush over Democratic nominee John F. Kerry to make appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the latest Washington Post tracking poll.

The survey found that 49 percent of all likely voters surveyed said they had more confidence in the president to choose future Supreme Court justices while 42 percent favor Kerry -- preferences that were sharply shaped by party identification. Three in four Democrats -- 76 percent -- believe Kerry would do a better job filling future vacancies while 89 percent of Republicans chose Bush. Political independents split equally between the two candidates.

MSNBC icon washingtonpost.com's Political Editor Ryan Thornburg discusses the latest tracking poll results.

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Because high court justices serve for life, appointments to the Supreme Court bench are one of the most effective ways that presidents can attempt to shape national policy after they leave office. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 80, has been hospitalized for treatment of thyroid cancer. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is 74 and John Paul Stevens is 84. Court watchers predict that at least one of the three will retire during the next four years, particularly if Bush wins reelection.

The gender gap on Supreme Court appointments is smaller for women but larger for men than it is on the overall vote, the survey suggests. Women are two percentage points more likely -- 47 percent to 45 percent -- to have more confidence in Kerry to fill court vacancies. Men trust Bush more than Kerry, 54 percent to 37 percent, a 17-point gap.

Overall, women currently are 6 points more likely to support Kerry while men are 5 points more likely to be voting for Bush.

The survey also found that many Democrats remain furious with the Bush administration. Nearly half of Kerry's supporters say they were "angry" with the president's policies, unchanged in the past three weeks. Only one in four Bush voters say that Kerry makes them irate, up slightly from early October.

Overall, the survey found the presidential race a virtual tie, with Kerry receiving 49 percent of the likely vote and Bush getting 48 percent. Independent Ralph Nader received 1 percent of the hypothetical vote. Over the four-day tracking period, Kerry initially did well while the president has led in the past two days.

In 13 key battleground states, Bush led Kerry 50 percent to 48 percent, well within the survey's margin of sampling error.

A total of 2,412 randomly selected adults, including 2,107 self-described registered voters and 1,709 likely voters, were interviewed Oct. 23-26 for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the national results is plus or minus 3 percentage points and 4 points in the sample of likely voters in battleground states.

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