- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

A variety of poll findings now suggest the odds are with President Bush in his battle for re-election.

With seven weeks until Election Day, Mr. Bush leads by seven percentage points in two major polls, which show the president with clear advantages over Democrat Sen. John Kerry on leadership, likability (70 percent in one national survey) and trust in handling not only terrorism and the Iraq situation, but also the economy — long thought to be Mr. Kerry’s ace in the hole.

Election history dating back to 1936 may be on Mr. Bush’s side. In the last 17 elections, only three candidates behind in Gallup’s Labor Day poll went on to win, said Frank Newport, Gallup Poll editor in chief.

And, according to Mr. Newport, only “two out of the 17 elections exhibit all of the developments Kerry would need if he is to win this year.” He cited six elections since 1936 in which the gap between the candidates shrunk by 7 percentage points or more, but in only two did the candidate who was behind on Labor Day end up winning: President Harry Truman’s 1948 upset defeat of challenger Thomas Dewey and Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory over President Carter.

Time magazine’s latest poll, based on a Sept. 7-9 survey, shows Mr. Bush leading Mr. Kerry among likely voters by an 11 percentage point margin, 52 percent to 41 percent, the same lead Mr. Bush enjoyed in the magazine’s Sept. 3-5 poll.

Time said its poll “found no damage” from charges that Mr. Bush “evaded duties while in the National Guard during the Vietnam War,” a charge made last week by Democrats and CBS News.

However, a new survey of 1,003 voters by Newsweek, taken Sept. 9-10, shows Mr. Bush’s post-convention bounce deflating, with the president now at 49 percent and Mr. Kerry at 43 percent — a six-point spread.

But that is not necessarily bad news for the Bush campaign.

“The candidate who is ahead on Labor Day usually wins the election, regardless of changes in the margins over the last two months of the campaign,” according to Mr. Newport.

The Sept. 3-5 CNN-USA Today-Gallup post-Republican convention poll had Mr. Bush leading by seven points, 52 percent to 45 percent. The Gallup poll also found that only 32 percent saw Mr. Kerry as a “strong and decisive leader,” compared with 60 percent who saw Mr. Bush that way.

In John Zogby’s Sept. 8-9 poll of 1,018 likely voters, support for Mr. Kerry dropped to 42 percent from the 47 percent on Aug. 12-14, while Mr. Bush’s support rose to 46 percent from 43 percent.

“Kerry’s problem is that he doesn’t have as many Democrats supporting him as Bush has Republicans supporting him, and those Democrats have left Kerry,” Mr. Zogby said.

Time, in discussing its survey, noted that 56 percent of registered voters now approve of the job Mr. Bush is doing, “solidly above the 50 percent historical threshold for re-electing incumbents.”

One of most positive signs for Mr. Bush is that voters tell pollsters they like him more than they like his Democratic challenger. The president’s advantage on that poll question, coupled with a decisive edge on strong leadership, is so great in at least one national survey that Mr. Kerry would have to completely remake his image to win, political analysts say.

A Sept. 6-8 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Mr. Kerry’s favorable rating fell to 36 percent from 51 percent at the beginning of August, while his unfavorable rating increased to 42 percent from 36 percent. Those findings were similar to those of other recent polls.

In its online poll analysis, Time said Mr. Bush’s “favorability scores have risen significantly,” while “Kerry’s unfavorable ratings have increased significantly.” The Time poll also posed the “likability” question directly and found that 70 percent said the word “accurately describes” Mr. Bush.

Polls showing more than 40 percent of voters with a negative view of Mr. Kerry could be trouble for the Democrat.

“Negative opinions about a candidate have a lot more weight than positive ratings,” said Jeff Jones, Gallup managing editor. “Negative ratings are more firmly held and are harder to change.”

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