Monday, November 6, 2006

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Sen. John Kerry’s gaffe that Americans who do not do well in school end up in Iraq has triggered deep doubts among some independent voters about voting Democratic in the elections, according to a new Pew poll.

The poll found that 18 percent of independent voters — considered pivotal in today’s congressional elections — said they had “serious doubts about voting for a Democratic candidate” because of Mr. Kerry’s comments last week.

For most of this year, polls have shown independent voters supporting Democrats by lopsided margins, but yesterday’s Pew poll said the Republicans “have made major gains, in a relatively short time period, among independent voters.”

Democrats now lead Republicans among independents by 44 percent to 33 percent, compared with 47 percent to 29 percent in mid-October, according to Pew’s poll of 2,369 registered voters Wednesday through Saturday.

In a speech to students at Pasadena City College in California last week, Mr. Kerry said, “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

The Massachusetts liberal’s remark was seen by critics and fellow Democrats as demeaning the educational levels of U.S. service members. It forced him to cancel all of his campaign appearances after apologizing for comments he called “a botched joke” about President Bush’s intelligence.

While most voters (78 percent) said Mr. Kerry’s remarks were “not a serious consideration,” 19 percent of all voters thought otherwise, representing a potentially significant shift of “voting intentions” and raising speculation of further erosion among independents for the Democrats.

Five percent of the Democrats polled said Mr. Kerry’s remarks could affect their votes as well, Pew said.

Pew said it found that “Republicans have become more engaged and enthused in the election than they had been in September and October. As a result, Republicans now register a greater likelihood of voting than do Democrats.”

Overall, Democrats led Republicans by 47 percent to 43 percent among likely voters in the poll, a decline of three points for the Democrats and an increase of four points for the Republicans in the generic ballot survey.

Pew also found a sharp increase in voter approval of the economy, with 44 percent “rating it as excellent or good, compared with 36 percent who held that view in mid-October.”

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