updated 10/19/2004 5:52:19 PM ET 2004-10-19T21:52:19

President Bush has doubled his support among black Americans in four years and Sen. John Kerry’s backing among the key Democratic voting block is down slightly from the support Al Gore won in 2000, according to a poll released Tuesday.

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But the Democratic presidential nominee holds a nearly 4-to-1 margin over Bush in the poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based research group that focuses on issues concerning blacks.

Bush got low marks for his handling of the war in Iraq and his overall job performance.

Black Americans preferred the four-term Massachusetts senator over Bush, 69 percent to 18 percent. The group’s poll before the 2000 election found Gore with a 74 percent to 9 percent lead over Bush.

Polls differ on the level of support for Bush among blacks.

Exit polls in 2000 showed Gore winning 90 percent of the black vote, with Bush at 9 percent — the lowest support for a Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater garnered 6 percent in 1964.

Michael Whouley, general election manager for the Democratic National Committee, said internal polling didn’t reflect the Joint Center’s results. “I think on Election Day you will see record numbers (of black voters) go to the polls and vote for John Kerry,” he said.

The Joint Center poll of 1,642 adults was conducted from Sept. 15 to Oct. 10, four days before the third and final presidential debate, and had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The survey included two samples — a general population sample of 850 adults and one of 850 blacks. There were 58 black respondents whose answers were part of both samples.

Democrats count on turnout
While Kerry hopes to counter any erosion in support among blacks, he also needs a large turnout among black Democrats to win battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The poll found Kerry receiving as much or more support than Gore among those age 18 to 25, those with less than a high school diploma and those making $60,000 or less.

But Kerry had 49 percent support from black Christian conservatives, down from the 69 percent Gore enjoyed in 2000. Bush was at 36 percent among the group this year, more than tripling the 11 percent he got four years ago.

Republican officials say they are making an effort this year to reach out to the black community. Campaign aides have cited Bush’s support of school vouchers, public money that can be used to help pay private school tuition, and support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as issues that might win him more black votes.

About 48 percent of blacks surveyed supported vouchers, the same percentage as in the general population, according to the Joint Center poll. About 46 percent of blacks said there should be no recognition of a gay couple’s relationship, compared with 37 percent for the population overall.

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