The "deserves re-election" number for Bush is down from 54 percent after his convention, when he was at a peak. The race, like the answer to this question, has tightened since.
Whatever the outcome of the election, such results underscore the difficulty Bush has had -- and perhaps any president might encounter in this polarized electorate -- achieving his goal of being "a uniter, not a divider."
Issue priorities are holding steady, with a close division among the top three: the economy, cited by 24 percent of likely voters as most important in their vote; the war in Iraq, 22 percent; and terrorism, 21 percent.
Terrorism, Bush's best issue, peaked higher, at 28 percent, after his convention. Kerry's been trying, with some success, to drive it down and other issues up in importance, a critically important factor in this competitive race.
Among groups, there's a sharp regional difference in vote preferences: Kerry ahead by 56 percent to 41 percent in his home region, the Northeast, and by 54 percent to 45 percent in the West. It's a 52 percent-46 percent Bush-Kerry race in the most populous region, the South, and a 50 percent-46 percent Bush-Kerry contest in the Midwest. The biggest difference from 2000 is the West, better at the moment for Kerry than it was for Al Gore.
Kerry continues to be strong in core Democratic groups, Bush in the Republican base, with an unusual split in the two major swing groups: Independents, now 51 percent-44 percent Kerry-Bush, and white Catholics, 52 percent-44 percent Bush-Kerry. In exit polls since 1980, these two groups have sided with the same candidate, and he's won the presidency.
Religion, or the lack thereof, has its customarily strong influence. Apart from white Catholics, the most centrist large religious group, white Protestants prefer Bush by 30 points, 64 percent to 34 percent; that includes evangelical white Protestants, by a wider 71 percent to 28 percent, and non-evangelical white Protestants by 57 percent to 41 percent. People who profess no religion, 12 percent of likely voters, favor Kerry by 67 percent to 31 percent.
This poll was conducted Oct. 22-25 among a random national sample of 2,414 adults, including 2,084 registered voters and 1,666 likely voters. The results have a 2.5-point error margin for the likely voter sample. ABC News and The Washington Post are sharing data collection for this tracking poll, then independently applying their own models to arrive at likely voter estimates. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.