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Poll finds Americans engaged in presidential race

But respondents cite negative tone

A new poll finds a strong majority of Americans believe the outcome of the presidential race is important.

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(CNN) -- The American public appears to be more engaged in the outcome of this year's presidential election than it was four years ago, but nearly half of those queried in a new poll say they think the race has gotten too negative, long and boring, more than seven months out from Election Day.

A survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that 63 percent of those polled think it really matters who wins the presidential race in November. In June 2000, the same poll found only 45 percent who felt that way.

Much of the jump appears to be related to Democratic discontent with President Bush, with the number of Democrats who believe the election really matters rising by more than 20 percent from four years ago. However, more Republicans and independents also said the outcome of the election matters this time around, according to the Pew poll.

Asked about the tone of the campaign, 47 percent said they thought it has been too negative, while the same percentage said it hasn't. After watching Democrats pound Bush for months during the primary season, Republicans were more inclined to view the race as too negative than were Democrats.

Asked whether the campaign has been interesting or boring, 49 percent termed it interesting, but 48 percent expressed boredom. Also, a slim majority -- 52 percent -- thought the campaign was too long, while just 44 percent thought it wasn't.

9/11 charges

A separate Pew survey found that much of the American public is following the controversy over charges by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke that the Bush administration did not pay enough attention to the threat from al Qaeda prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Asked how much they had heard about Clarke's charges, 42 percent said "a lot," while 47 percent said "a little." Only 10 percent said they had heard nothing about the controversy.

The Pew survey on the presidential race also found that as presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry has become better known, the number of people who view him as liberal has increased. In January, just 28 percent said Kerry was liberal. Now, that figure has risen to 40 percent overall and is up to 62 percent among Republicans.

But along the same line, fewer Republican and independent voters now view Bush as conservative, the poll found. In January, 60 percent of Republicans polled by Pew classified the president as conservative; in the latest survey, that had dropped to 47 percent. Among independents, the figure dropped from 53 percent to 46 percent.

A higher percentage of Democrats now see Bush as conservative -- 56 percent -- than do Republicans.

On the issue of gay and lesbian marriage, the Pew poll found that opponents of same-sex marriage were split over whether the federal Constitution should be amended to prohibit the practice.

Fifty-nine percent of those polled were against same-sex marriage, while only 30 percent favored it. But among opponents who had an opinion on the amendment, more than a third said they were against it.

The poll also found 49 percent of respondents favored civil unions for same-sex couples, while 44 percent were opposed.

The Pew poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points; for the survey on the Clarke controversy, plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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