President Bush is now in a statistical dead heat with Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry for the Nov. 2 election, in a tightening of the race after the first debate last week, a pair of new polls show.
The USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of likely voters taken between Friday and Sunday found Bush’s 8 point lead over Kerry in a Sept. 26 poll had evaporated and both candidates would get 49 percent of the vote if the election were held today. Independent Ralph Nader got 1 percent, compared to 3 percent in the previous survey.
And a Newsweek poll also found that the president’s lead has vanished and the race now statistically tied among all registered voters, 47 percent of whom say they would vote for Kerry and 45 percent for George W. Bush in a three-way race. Nader gets 2 percent.
The polls are the first to show that Bush took a hit following last Thursday’s debate, which focused on foreign policy and national security and drew an audience of at least 62.5 million, according to Nielsen ratings. However, they reflect the national popular vote, while it's the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner. NBC currently estimates that Bush has a 217-200 vote lead there, with 270 needed to win the Nov. 2 election.
In the USA Today survey, Kerry was judged the winner of the debate by more than two to one — 57 percent to 25 percent — of likely voters in the poll. Voters also thought the Democrat expressed himself more clearly and he was more intelligent, according to the poll.
USA Today said one reason for Kerry’s rise was growing unease about Iraq, which had emerged as a more powerful issue in the campaign — equal to the economy and only second to terrorism.
The poll found Bush’s previous 14-point advantage on the handling of Iraq was slashed by half to 7 points, but the incumbent continued to have an advantage in his handling of terrorism, according to USA Today.
The poll found Kerry reclaimed his advantage on the economy and more voters thought the Democrat would handle the economy better than Bush.
Kerry also convinced more voters he had a clear plan for Iraq, with 41 percent of likely voters saying he had a plan, up from 30 percent before the debate. For Bush, the figure slipped to 49 percent from 52 percent.
The margin of error for the poll of 772 likely voters was plus or minus four percentage points.
In the Newsweek poll, among the 74 percent of registered voters who say they watched at least some of the debate, 61 percent saw Kerry as the winner, 19 percent picked Bush and 16 percent called it a tie. The Newsweek poll interviewed 1,013 registered voters by telephone on Sept. 30-Oct. 2. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.