Three new polls released Tuesday show that President Bush is maintaining a healthy lead over Sen. John Kerry as the first of their three nationally televised debates approaches.
In a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, Bush has a six-point lead over Kerry — 51 percent to 45 percent — among likely voters while independent Ralph Nader garners 1 percent. Bush's lead is seven points — 51-44 — among registered voters.
A new poll from USA Today/CNN/Gallup showed similar results. Bush leads Kerry by eight points — 52-44 — among likely voters and by 11 points — 53-42 — among all registered voters. Nader claims three percent in both cases.
And a poll of registered voters from the Pew Research Center gave Bush a 48-40 lead with Nader garnering 2 percent.
In conducting their poll, the Post and ABC found that Bush has built his lead by through "relentless attacks on Kerry" that have "badly damaged the Democratic nominee. ... Voters routinely describe Kerry as wishy-washy, as a flip-flopper and as a candidate they are not sure they can trust, almost as if they are reading from Bush campaign ad scripts."
"But Kerry's problems are also partly of his own making. Despite repeated efforts to flesh out his proposals on Iraq, terrorism and other issues, he has yet to break through to undecided voters as someone who has clear plans for fixing the country's biggest problems."
Both campaigns claimed the new data favored their candidates.
"The debates are the only thing left that John Kerry can utilize to bring this race back to dead even," Bush strategist Matthew Dowd told USAToday.
But Kerry pollster Mark Mellman told the newspaper that its poll, like other recent surveys, "shows a dramatic narrowing of this race."
The two candidates face off Thursday night at 6 p.m. ET for a 90-minute forum in Coral Gables, Fla., that is to focus on foreign policy. Many observers say Kerry must score big in the first of what will be three televised debates between the two men to remain in the race. Indeed, 18 percent of voters in the USAToday poll say the debates could help decide how they cast their ballots.
And expectations for Bush to perform well are high, according to the same poll. Some 52 percent say they expect the president to do a better job in the debates than Kerry. Only 39 percent say Kerry will perform better than Bush.
Popular vs. electoral
While both new polls measured national voter sentiment, theoretically showing how the candidates will fare in the popular vote, it's the electoral vote, apportioned mostly through winner-take-all contests in the 50 states, that will determine who is the next president. In that contest, NBC News currently projects that Bush is likely to win 222 electoral votes to 200 for Kerry with the remainder in states too close to call. To win, 270 electoral votes are needed.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted Sept. 23-26 among 1,204 adults, of whom 969 said they were registered to vote. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
The USAToday/CNN/Gallup Poll was based on interviews with 1,006 adults conducted Sept. 24-26. The margin of error was also three points.
The Pew poll was conducted Sept. 22-26 among 948 registered voters and had a 3.5-point margin of error.