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Poll: Kerry loses ground to Bush

Kerry's debate showing not translating to popularity


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The poll said 46 percent thought Sen. John Kerry did a better job in the third debate than President Bush.
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(CNN) -- Although most Americans who have been polled say they think Sen. John Kerry did the better job in the debates, the Democratic nominee appears to have lost some ground to President Bush in the popularity contest, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Sunday.

The latest poll, taken after the third and final debate last Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona, indicated Bush with a spread of 52 percent to 44 percent over Kerry among likely voters.

In the previous Gallup poll, taken October 9-10, Bush had an edge of 49 percent to 46 percent among those in the same group.

Among registered voters, Bush edged Kerry 49 percent to 46 percent, practically even given the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

In the previous poll, taken after the second debate on October 8, Kerry and Bush were tied at 48 percent among registered voters. The October 9-10 poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. (Full story)

Independent candidate Ralph Nader had 1 percent among both groups in each poll.

The poll interviewed 1,013 adult Americans by telephone Thursday through Saturday, including 942 who identified themselves as registered voters and 788 who indicated they were likely to vote.

On the question about last week's debate, 46 percent of all those interviewed thought Kerry did a better job in than Bush, who had 32 percent. Yet as Democrat Al Gore learned in 2000, winning a debate on points does not necessarily translate into electoral votes.

As in 2000, Bush's favorability ratings -- how Americans view him as a person -- went up after a debate that voters say he lost -- from 51 percent in the October 9-10 poll to 55 percent in the most recent poll.

Kerry's favorability rating remained flat, at 52 percent in both polls. The question had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

One reason Kerry has not been able to translate his debate showing into a lead in the popularity contest could be that voters think he is too liberal.

Bush emphasized that label at Wednesday's debate, and it seems to be sticking. Nearly half of all respondents -- 47 percent -- in the most recent poll said Kerry's political views are too liberal. Four in 10 said Bush is too conservative. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Kerry got one major advantage out of the debates. Fifty-seven percent of all respondents saw him as able to handle the job of commander in chief -- compared with 53 percent in an October 1-3 Gallup poll and 49 percent in a September 24-26 poll.

Yet Bush is still seen as a better commander in chief and a stronger leader, by a 53 percent to 44 percent margin.

The margin of error on those questions was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Bush also apparently picked up ground on education and health care in the third debate, which concentrated on domestic issues.

In the most recent poll, 49 percent of all respondents said he would do a better job on education than Kerry, who had 46 percent. The October 9-10 poll had Bush at 43 percent and Kerry at 50 percent.

On health care, 52 percent now say Kerry would do a better job, compared with 56 percent in the previous poll. Bush's percentages went up from 37 percent to 43 percent.

Those questions had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Republicans seem more enthusiastic about the election (77 percent) than do Democrats (65 percent) and thus more likely to vote, as reflected in Gallup's likely voter model.

Respondents who identified themselves a Bush voters were also nearly unanimous in thinking their candidate would win -- 88 percent. A quarter of Kerry voters said they think their candidate would lose.

Regardless of how they are planning to vote, Americans appear to think this is the most important election in recent memory.

When asked whether the outcome matters more than in previous elections, 72 percent of all respondents said yes, compared with 47 percent in 2000 and 41 percent in 1996.

All those questions had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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