Video: Kerry challenges Bush

NBC News
updated 8/26/2004 6:50:54 PM ET 2004-08-26T22:50:54

Exactly one week before President George W. Bush accepts his party’s nomination in New York, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Bush has a slight lead against Democratic challenger John Kerry, despite troubling numbers for the president on the economy, Iraq, and the nation’s direction.

According to the survey, which was conducted by Hart/McInturff, Bush and Dick Cheney get support from 47 percent of registered voters, Democrats Kerry and John Edwards get 45 percent, and Independents Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo get 3 percent. Those numbers are virtually unchanged from the last NBC/Journal poll, which was released on July 22.

Yet while Bush leads the horse race, both the economy and Iraq continue to dog his re-election campaign. The poll shows that 52 percent of respondents disapprove of Bush’s handling of the economy, compared with 43 percent who approve. Regarding Iraq, 49 percent say removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the casualties or financial cost of the war, while 43 percent say it was worth it.

Overall, 50 percent of registered voters believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 36 percent who believe it’s headed in the right direction. And asked whether Bush deserves re-election, 50 percent say no, while 46 percent say yes. All of these results are practically identical to the findings from the July survey.

Growing approval for handling war on terrorism
However, the poll also shows that Bush’s standing in the war on terrorism has gotten stronger. Fifty-three percent of registered voters approve of his handling on terrorism, while 42 percent disapprove. For Bush, that’s an increase from June, when 48 percent said they approved, compared with 47 percent who disapproved.

“The bottom line is that the numbers are not strong enough to say that Bush definitively will or will not win re-election,” said Jay Campbell, a Democratic pollster with Hart Research. “They seem to be going both ways.”

Nevertheless, Republican pollster Bill McInturff points out that Bush is in a precarious situation with just a little more than two months before the election. “He is really frozen... It’s a very difficult haul to get where he is on the ballot and get higher,” he said. “We need a little more than a bump up to make this [something other than] a difficult race.”

But McInturff notes that Bush is still leading in category that matters most: the horse race.

This poll of 806 registered voters was conducted from Aug. 23 to Aug. 25, and it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. And the fact that its findings are largely unchanged from last month is striking, especially since so many highly charged political events have occurred in that time. In late July, Kerry and his campaign dominated the news during the four-day Democratic National Convention in Boston, which gave him a short, temporary bump according to some polls.

The Swift Boat controversy
Kerry has also dominated the news after the convention — but probably not in the way his campaign wanted: In the past couple of weeks, an anti-Kerry group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has aired television ads blasting Kerry’s Vietnam war record and his critical comments about that war. Kerry has since attacked the Bush campaign, charging that it has ties to this group, an accusation the Bush campaign denies.

In addition to those developments, in late July, the Sept. 11 commission released its final report, which concluded that both the Bush and Clinton Administrations failed to combat Islamic terrorism and protect the United States from attack. And earlier this month, the Bush White House received some less-than-stellar economic news when the Labor Department reported that employers had added just 32,000 payroll jobs in July — far fewer than economists had predicted. 

Indeed, as Hart Research’s Campbell points out, it’s unlikely that there will be any changes in the polls from now until Election Day. “We should probably give up looking for enormous swings in the election at this point,” Campbell said. “We’re still creeping forward or backward depending on the question you want to look at.”

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

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