- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

It’s not surprising, given the recently concluded Democratic primary process and its emphasis on White House bashing, that President Bush finds himself seriously challenged in recent national horserace polls. Indeed, one of the president’s chief campaign strategists, Mathew Dowd, has warned the party faithful for months that Mr. Bush would find himself in exactly this situation once Democrats decided on a nominee.

Mr. Dowd was correct in his prediction, yet despite the tightening overall race, Mr. Bush remains remarkably strong on several factors crucial to winning this November. The numbers also demonstrate why Democrats are trying desperately to undercut the president’s credibility in fighting the war on terror. If, in November, voter electoral calculus turns on questions like “who can keep the country safer,” Mr. Bush has a clear advantage. Those are the results of the February American Survey of 800 registered voters (3.5 margin of error).

We asked voters who they thought, Mr. Bush or Sen. John Kerry, “would keep the country safer.” By a large margin, 53 percent to 37 percent, voters chose the president. It’s significant that the president holds a commanding 16 percent point advantage on this potentially pivotal electoral question when our poll shows the head-to-head race at a statistical dead heat. (Our poll put Mr. Kerry ahead 47 percent to 45 percent, a statistically insignificant margin.)

The survey also uncovers a major difference between stated voter preferences — essentially a tie at this point in the head-to-head match up — and “who they think will win.” When we asked voters who they think will win, Mr. Bush surges ahead by a very healthy 12 percent margin, 51 percent to 39 percent.

Finally, Republicans are much more confident in Mr. Bush’s chances of winning the election than Democrats are in Mr. Kerry’s prospects. Breaking down the previous question by party reveals nearly one-third of the Democrats (28 percent) think Mr. Bush will win, compared to only 11 percent of the Republicans betting on Mr. Kerry.

Historically, asking voters who they think will win is a pretty solid predictor of the final outcome. After riding high in the aftermath of securing the nomination, Mr. Kerry is hoping history is wrong.

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