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Bush Support Strong After Convention

Kerry Favorability Rating Plunges in New Survey

By Richard Morin and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 10, 2004; Page A01

President Bush emerged from his New York convention with a solid lead over Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, strengthening his position on virtually every important issue in the campaign and opening up a clear advantage on many of the personal characteristics that influence voters in presidential elections, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

For the first time in a Post-ABC News poll this year, a majority of probable voters say they plan to vote for Bush. Among those most likely to vote in November, Bush holds a lead of 52 percent to 43 percent over Kerry, with independent Ralph Nader receiving 2 percent of the hypothetical vote. Among all registered voters, Bush leads Kerry 50 percent to 44 percent.

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Among a smaller sample in 19 battleground states, where strategists believe the election will be decided, Bush holds a narrower lead among likely voters, 50 percent to 46 percent. Among all voters in these states, the two candidates are running even.

The survey highlights the damage to Kerry in August and during the Republican National Convention. Bush got a four-point "bounce" in support among likely voters from his convention, about what Kerry received from his convention in July. But in other important ways, the poll suggests that Republicans achieved virtually all their objectives last week in New York, particularly their goal of making Kerry less acceptable to voters.

What will not be known for another few weeks is whether Bush's gains are transitory, as Kerry's were in the immediate aftermath of his convention. The setback to Kerry has generated concern among Democrats about his candidacy, but four years ago, Bush trailed Al Gore by eight points and later 10 points in tracking polls taken by the Gallup Organization in mid-September, and he came back to win the presidency.

In the five weeks since the Democratic convention, Kerry's favorable rating has plunged. Besides a relentless pounding from the GOP, Kerry has experienced attacks on his Vietnam War service from a group of Vietnam veterans, and the Democrat's comments about Iraq have been a source of controversy. Kerry's favorable rating fell from 51 percent at beginning of August to 36 percent among registered voters in the new Post-ABC News poll, while his unfavorable rating rose from 32 percent to 42 percent.

Bush's favorable rating rose slightly to 51 percent, and his overall approval rating rose another notch to 52 percent. An identical percentage of voters said Bush deserves a second term. Strategists in both campaigns have watched Bush's approval rating closely as an indicator of his reelection prospects. That rating fell below 50 percent in May and has been inching back up over the summer. History suggests that Bush will be formidable in November if his approval rating remains in the low 50s, vulnerable if he is in the 40s.

The poll suggests that Bush and the GOP successfully, but perhaps only temporarily, altered the issues agenda since the convention, shifting public attention away from the economy, on which voters have generally given Bush negative marks, to terrorism, an issue on which he has always been stronger.

According to the survey, the proportion that named terrorism as the top voting issue increased from 19 percent immediately before the GOP convention to 25 percent right after. At the same time, the proportion naming the economy and jobs as their top voting issue declined four points to 27 percent. Slightly less than one in five -- 18 percent -- named Iraq as their top issue, unchanged from before the convention.

Bush holds significant advantages over Kerry on who would be best equipped to deal with terrorism, Iraq and taxes and smaller advantages on the economy, education and relations with other countries. Kerry holds narrow advantages over Bush on health care and helping the middle class, and the two are virtually tied on the issue of creating jobs.

Judged on several personal attributes, Bush led Kerry on honesty, leadership, vision, values and personality, and was statistically tied on who understands problems of "people like you."

Since the end of the Democratic convention in late July, the race has flipped, with Kerry moving from a six-point advantage over Bush to a six-point deficit among registered voters. Among likely voters, Bush has gone from a two-point deficit to a nine-point advantage.

The poll shows a gender gap among registered voters: Bush holds an 18-point lead among men while Kerry leads by six points among women.

Young people have led the exodus from Kerry to Bush. Since Aug. 1, Kerry's support among voters ages 18 to 29 has dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent while Bush's share of the young vote has increased to 46 percent -- a 28-point turnaround in five weeks.

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