- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Many Americans say that the stakes in the 2004 presidential campaign are high and that their current level of interest compares with the attention paid just one month before the 2000 election, according to a poll released yesterday.

About 63 percent of those surveyed said it really matters who wins the election, said the poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. In June 2000, 45 percent said it really mattered who won the presidential election between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush.

“The September 11 attacks have put more emphasis on Washington and the president,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. “President Bush has raised the debate about how to handle the war on terrorism. These are issues that generate a lot of interest with voters.”

The increase in those who think the election outcome really matters was highest among Democrats — a 22 percentage-point increase since 2000. But Republicans and independents also are increasingly convinced of the importance of the election outcome.

Almost two-thirds of the voters polled say they have thought “quite a lot” about the presidential campaign, which is about the level of interest at the peak of the 2000 presidential campaign in October.

Although interest in the campaign is high, almost half of those surveyed say that the tone already is turning too negative and that the campaign is too long.

About 47 percent of respondents said Democrat Sen. John Kerry has been too critical of Mr. Bush, while 33 percent said Mr. Bush has been too personally critical of Mr. Kerry.

The president generally stayed out of the re-election campaign through the winter, when Democrats were fighting it out for the nomination.

But Mr. Bush has stepped up his criticism of Mr. Kerry since the beginning of March with millions of dollars in campaign ads.

An increasing number of Americans, especially Republicans, view Mr. Kerry as liberal, the poll found, while the number of those who see Mr. Bush as conservative has dropped slightly.

The Pew poll of 1,703 adults conducted March 17 to 21, including 1,306 registered voters, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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