Video: Russert analysis

msnbc.com news services
updated 9/17/2004 12:03:08 PM ET 2004-09-17T16:03:08

New public opinion surveys paint very different pictures of the presidential race, with a poll Friday showing President Bush with a commanding 13-point lead over challenger John Kerry coming a day after two other surveys showed the race returning to a statistical dead heat.

Friday’s poll said Bush was leading Kerry 55 percent to 42 percent among likely voters, and 52 percent to 44 percent among all registered voters. Both figures represent a significant improvement for Bush since just before the beginning of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30.

The results of the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of 1,022 people conducted Sept. 13-15, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, gave Bush the first statistically significant edge either candidate has held this year.

“It doesn’t look like the new consultants and strategies of attacks are the right ones” for Kerry, Bush campaign adviser Matthew Dowd told USA Today.

Kerry adviser Mike McCurry told the newspaper there had been some “bouncing around in the numbers” but the campaign sensed it was moving back to a much closer race since Bush received a boost following the Republican convention that ended on Sept. 2.

Tight race?
McCurry’s view corresponded with two national polls released Thursday that showed the race essentially even again.

The Pew Research Center sampled voters in two waves. The first poll of likely voters, taken Sept. 8-10, found Bush ahead by 16 percentage points. The second poll on Sept. 11-14, which had a 3.5 percentage point margin of error, found Bush with a statistically insignificant 1 percent lead among likely voters, 47 percent to 46 percent.

A Harris Interactive poll out Thursday also showed the race deadlocked.

The polls track the likely popular vote, not the realities of the U.S. Electoral College, which ultimately determine who occupies the White House.

Pew director Andrew Kohut says after months of deadlock, voter opinion is now unsettled. He said that’s going to mean more variation in the polls.

Convention bounce
After the Republican convention and its four days of criticism of Kerry, Bush grabbed a lead ranging from 5 points to 11 points in various national polls. That lead appeared to be shrinking by late last week.

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Bush continues to hold a commanding lead on the question of who would do the best job of defending the country from terrorists, by 58 percent to 31 percent in the Pew poll. And he’s seen by more as a strong leader.

But people are more likely to disapprove of Bush’s handling of the economy and are evenly split on his dealing with Iraq. Almost six in 10 respondents to the Pew poll said it’s not clear what Bush will do about Iraq if he is re-elected.

Interest in the presidential debates is high with 61 percent saying it’s very likely they will tune in to watch — compared with 43 percent who said that in September 2000. Three in 10 said the debates will matter in their voting decision.

The Pew poll indicated that respondents’ forecasts for the November election do not reflect their balloting intentions. By a 3-1 margin, likely voters said they think Bush is likely to win re-election in November.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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