03/29/2004 - A week's worth of criticism of his pre-Sept. 11 record on terrorism has had little impact on President Bush's support among voters. He is now running even with Sen. John Kerry in a head-to-head match-up among registered voters (47% Kerry- 46% Bush) after trailing Kerry by 52%-43% in mid-March. Voter opinions have been fluid in this early stage of the presidential contest, but Bush has held his own against Kerry with regard to personal qualities, while the Massachusetts senator has lost support on key issues like health care and jobs. And on the central question of which candidate would do the best job of defending the country against future terrorist attacks, Bush continues to lead Kerry by a wide margin (53%-29%).
The latest national survey of 1,501 Americans by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 22-28, 2004 finds Bush's job approval ratings still sub-par (47% approve and 44% disapprove). Kerry's strength continues to be on domestic issues, including health care, jobs and the economy, but voters' confidence in Kerry has slipped, not grown, over the past two weeks. Today, Bush and Kerry run virtually even on the question of who can best improve economic conditions (44% Kerry, 39% Bush). Kerry held a sizable advantage on this issue in polling earlier this month.
Bush continues to hold the advantage on defending the country against terrorism, though slightly fewer back him over Kerry on this issue (53%, down from 57% in mid-March). Notably, the president has lost ground on terrorism among swing voters, just half of whom say he could do a better job than Kerry on this issue, down from 72% in mid-March. Yet Kerry has not gained ground on terrorism. Instead, a growing number of swing voters (37%, up from 17%) are undecided as to whether Bush or Kerry could do a better job of defending the country against future attacks.
Former White House aide Richard Clarke's criticisms of the president's anti-terrorism policies and the televised hearings of the 9/11 commission have not undermined impressions of Bush's leadership abilities. Half of voters (51%) say the phrase "a strong leader" better describes Bush, while a third say that about Kerry. Opinion on that matter is virtually unchanged from mid-March (52% Bush/34% Kerry).
Bush's other primary personal strength is the widely-held perception that he is "willing to take a stand, even if it's unpopular." Roughly six-in-ten (59%) say that better describes Bush while only about half that number (28%) believe it is a better description of Kerry.
Read the full report Bush Support Steady in Wake of Clarke Criticisms on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.