Tuesday, September 07, 2004

USA TODAY POLL--Bush leads Kerry by 7 points

By Susan Page, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — President Bush widened his lead over John Kerry after a combative Republican National Convention reinforced questions about the Democratic candidate's leadership, especially on terrorism. (Related link: Poll results)
As the campaign enters its last eight weeks, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday shows Bush at 52%, Kerry at 45% and independent candidate Ralph Nader at 1% among likely voters. Before the convention, Bush led Kerry by 2 percentage points.

Among registered voters, Bush was at 48%, Kerry at 46% and Nader at 4% in the first nationwide post-convention poll.

Bush's lead remains within the survey's error margin at Labor Day, the traditional start of the campaign's homestretch.

By historical standards, the race is too close to call. But the New York convention altered the political landscape and attitudes toward the candidates in ways helpful to Republicans. Views of whether Bush has the personality and leadership qualities to be president improved by 6 points; those of Kerry declined by 14 points.

And the importance of terrorism — the issue on which Bush has his biggest advantage — surged. Voters now say terrorism is as important as the economy in determining their vote. Bush is preferred by 27 points over Kerry in handling terrorism, up from a 10-point edge last month.

Bush strategist Matthew Dowd says Bush is further ahead than the campaign expected. With the conventions over, he says Kerry "has lost any ability to have any one-way conversation" with voters.

Mark Mellman, Kerry's pollster, says there is "no doubt" that "ugly and inaccurate speeches" at the Republican convention had an effect. "Equally, there's no doubt they'll fade pretty quickly," he says.

The lessons of presidential races since World War II indicate that either candidate could prevail in November. Since World War II, three contests have been within the margin of error among registered voters at Labor Day.
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