Monday, November 1, 2004

Terrorism is a top concern for many of the more than 100 million Americans expected to cast their ballots today, with President Bush leading Sen. John Kerry in most national polls and, most important, in most of the battleground states.

Of 11 major national polls completed by Saturday or Sunday, Mr. Bush leads in seven, is tied with Mr. Kerry in two and trails in the remaining two. However, the president is over 50 percent in only one of the latest polls, with the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey showing him with 51 percent to Mr. Kerry’s 48 percent.

Of the 18 battleground states — where both campaigns have focused their efforts — an average of the latest polls shows Mr. Bush leading in 11.

But in each state, published polls show wildly divergent results. Campaign strategies indicate that the candidates’ private “internal” polls could be showing different trends. For example, Mr. Kerry leads every major poll in Michigan — by as much as seven percentage points in the latest Zogby poll — but the Massachusetts Democrat still campaigned there yesterday.

The latest Gallup poll has Mr. Kerry up by three points in Florida and by eight points in Minnesota, while he trails Mr. Bush in Iowa (by two points), Pennsylvania (by four points) and Wisconsin (by eight points).

Last night, habitual poll-watchers had new numbers to digest when John Zogby released results for a four-day poll that included some voters surveyed yesterday.

That poll showed Mr. Bush with a solid lead in Ohio (49 percent to 43 percent) and also ahead in Nevada (50 percent to 45 percent) and Colorado (49 percent to 47 percent), while Florida was a tie at 48 percent each. According to the final Zogby pre-election survey, Mr. Kerry was leading in Pennsylvania (50 percent to 46 percent), Wisconsin (51 percent to 45 percent), Iowa (50 percent to 45 percent), Minnesota (51 percent to 45 percent), Michigan (52 percent to 46 percent) and New Mexico (51 percent to 48 percent).

In every case, the state is leaning toward the party it backed in 2000.

Most polls show voters trust Mr. Bush to protect the nation from terrorism. Although voter discontent with the conduct of the Iraq war has been growing, according to most surveys, Mr. Bush still is considered better able to lead the United States with respect to Iraq.

Only on the economy does the president slightly trail Mr. Kerry. In Gallup’s latest national poll, Mr. Kerry leads Mr. Bush by 50 percent to 48 percent on which candidate would better handle the economy.

Mr. Bush leads 51 percent to 47 percent on who would better handle “the situation in Iraq,” and has a 55 percent to 43 percent advantage on who would better handle terrorism.

Yet little correlation is apparent between how voters rank the issues and which candidate they prefer.

A plurality of 30 percent of likely voters in Florida and 31 percent in Pennsylvania said terrorism was the most important issue. In Iowa and Minnesota, pluralities of 32 percent each said the economy was most important. In Ohio — where an average of recent polls puts the president ahead by 1.6 percentage points — 33 percent named the economy the most important issue.

Iraq was labeled the most important issue by 26 percent in Florida, 27 percent in Iowa, 26 percent in Minnesota, 23 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and 27 percent in Wisconsin.

In some cases, the polls are more suspect than usual, Republicans and Democrats say. The Gallup poll in Wisconsin, for example, had Mr. Bush up by eight percentage points — a lead so large some Bush campaign advisers privately dismissed it yesterday.

Former Milwaukee City Council President Bill Drew, a Democrat, said the Gallup finding at first puzzled him because he thought Mr. Kerry “had wind in his sails.” But, he said, “On the other hand, terrorism and the security issue — I think people are saying, ‘I’m undecided, but maybe I am better off with Bush from a security standpoint.’”

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