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Inside Politics

Kerry leads Bush in new poll

But most voters think president will be re-elected

Stay with CNN-USA all night as returns come in from the primaries in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Our political team of correspondents and analysts will have updates and reports on all the action.
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Bush, Kerry in war of words

Poll: Mixed results for '04 contenders
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
September 11 attacks
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry leads President Bush in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, although the race appears to be fluid and remains close.

The poll, released Monday, found that among likely voters, Kerry was the choice of 52 percent and Bush 44 percent in a two-way matchup, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

In a three-way race with Independent candidate Ralph Nader, Kerry had 50 percent, Bush 44 percent and Nader 2 percent.

Among registered voters, Kerry's lead over Bush narrowed from 8 percentage points to 5 points in a two-way race and from 6 points to 2 points in a three-way race.

That is because Democratic voters are indicating they are more likely to vote than the overall electorate -- something that has rarely happened in past elections and may be fueled by the interest in the recent Democratic primaries.

The president's job approval rating in the poll was 49 percent, with 48 percent saying they disapproved of his performance.

That is a slight dip from February, when Bush's approval numbers were in the low 50s. The 50 percent threshold is considered important for an incumbent seeking re-election.

Despite Kerry's lead and Bush's approval numbers, 52 percent of those polled thought Bush will win in November, compared to 42 percent who thought Kerry will prevail.

The president also held leads over Kerry when potential voters were asked who would do a better job handling terrorism, Iraq and world affairs.

Asked which candidate was more likely to change his mind for political reasons, 49 percent said Kerry and only 37 percent said Bush.

But Kerry held leads over Bush when voters were asked who would better handle health care, the budget deficit, Social Security and the economy.

And a bare majority of voters -- 51 percent -- said the economy was more important to their vote than terrorism. Forty-two percent said terrorism.

An equal slice of voters -- 57 percent -- each said they thought Kerry and Bush have the personality and leadership qualities a president should have.

When asked whether each candidate agreed with them on the issues, 48 percent said Bush agreed with them and 46 percent said the same for Kerry.

When Democrats were asked who they wanted Kerry to choose as their party's vice-presidential nominee, 47 percent said they didn't have a choice or were unsure.

Thirty percent picked Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, with all other possible vice-presidential nominees in single digits.

Poll respondents were also asked whether they thought it was appropriate for the Bush-Cheney campaign to use images from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in its campaign ads.

Fifty-four percent said it was inappropriate and 42 percent said it was appropriate.

Among voters who had actually seen the ads, 48 percent thought the images were appropriate, compared to 51 percent who said they were inappropriate, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The polling in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup sample began last Friday, the day after the Bush campaign launched its first ad salvo of the campaign, and continued over the weekend.

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