Poll: Most Condemn Kerry Debate Comment

Most likely voters agree with what John Kerry said about homosexuality at Wednesday's presidential debate -- but not with the way he said it.

Fifty-seven percent say being homosexual is the way people are, not the way they choose to be -- up from its level a decade ago. But likely voters by 2-1 also call it inappropriate for Kerry, when asked that question, to have noted that Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. Cheney himself mentioned his daughter's sexual orientation in a campaign appearance in August.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

After the debate, Cheney called himself "a pretty angry father" over Kerry's comment, and his wife called it "a cheap and tawdry political trick." Kerry responded that he was trying "to say something positive about the way strong families deal with the issue."

Kerry and President Bush remained locked in a 48 percent to 48 percent race in the latest ABC News tracking poll. While the tempest may not move many votes, it does look like a missed opportunity for Kerry, since most likely voters agree with his sentiment on the issue, but not how he expressed it.

Indeed only among one group, Kerry's own supporters, does a majority (52 percent) say it was appropriate for him to mention Mary Cheney. Among Democrats, 51 percent call it inappropriate; that rises to 64 percent of independents, 80 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Bush supporters.

Yet, on the question of whether homosexuality is a trait or a choice, more people take Kerry's position. (In response to this question at the debate, Kerry said, "I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice." Bush said, "I just don't know.") A third of likely voters call homosexuality a choice; 10 percent have no opinion; and, as noted, 57 percent say it's the way people are. (That compares with 49 percent in an ABC News/"Washington Post" poll of the general population in 1994.)

The question is somewhat of a political fault line. In one group, evangelical white Protestants -- a core Bush group -- most, 58 percent, call homosexuality a choice. So do 49 percent of conservatives and 46 percent of Bush supporters -- pluralities, but not majorities. By contrast, 58 percent of independents, 65 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Kerry supporters say it's the way people are. So do 68 percent of white Catholics, a swing voter group. And there's a strong regional difference, with more in the Northeast and West saying it's the way people are, not a choice.

Issues

Three top issues continue to command the most attention: Twenty-six percent of likely voters call Iraq the most important issue in their vote, 22 percent say it's the economy and 20 percent cite the U.S. campaign against terrorism. Health care is next, cited by 14 percent.

Bush maintains his lead over Kerry in trust to handle two of these -- Iraq and terrorism. But Kerry responds on domestic issues: He's opened a five-point edge in trust to handle the economy and six points on education, both improved from his position earlier in the week.

Kerry also leads by seven points on "creating jobs," and he holds a double-digit lead in trust to handle health care.

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