A better showing among movable voters has helped put George W. Bush back at the 50 percent mark, with 47 percent support for John Kerry among likely voters as the 2004 presidential campaign enters its closing days.
The race is still very close: Given polling tolerances, a three-point gap is not large enough to be conclusively characterized as a lead. Bush has improved in the last few days among some groups, such as movables, conservative Democrats and young adults. But Kerry's doing a bit better among white Catholics, a key swing group, helping to keep it tight.
The ABC News tracking poll shows no impact from the controversy over missing munitions in Iraq. Importance of Iraq as a voting issue hasn't significantly changed; Kerry still leads broadly -- but no more so -- among those who call it their top issue.
This poll is based on interviews Monday through Thursday; results from last Saturday and Sunday, which were two of Kerry's three best days since this tracking poll began Oct. 1, have rolled out of the average. The results the past four days have been quite stable -- a small numerical advantage for Bush, within the margin of error, each night.
The race has been quite stable among voters who say they've definitely made up their minds (essentially an even split between Bush and Kerry). There's been more change among movable voters -- those who haven't made a definite choice.
Movables in today's results favor Bush by 52-33 percent, a change from 46-36 percent in Kerry's favor as of Sunday. It's a small group -- eight percent of likely voters, down from 14 percent when tracking began -- but in a close race, an important one.
Questions about movables remain. One is whether they keep moving; they still, by their own description, have not definitely decided. Another is how many of them actually vote: Movables are 30 points less likely than decided voters to be following the race very closely; that suggests less commitment to the process, which may mean lower turnout in this group.
Movables also are less partisan, more ideologically moderate, and younger -- about one in four are under age 30. Non-partisan and young voters can be lower-turnout groups.
The two traditionally key swing voter groups, meanwhile, have returned to about even splits: Independents divide 48-47 percent and white Catholics 49-47 percent for Kerry vs. Bush. That's better for Kerry among white Catholics, and better for Bush among independents, than early in the week.
In every election since 1980 (all those for which exit polls are available) the candidate who has won both independents and white Catholics has won the presidency.
Three other important groups -- whose preferences have not followed their 2000 pattern -- are young likely voters, unmarried men and married women.
Young voters, age 18 to 29, have shifted this week from 60-35 percent Kerry-Bush to a closer 52-45 percent (and as noted, movables are disproportionately young). That's still better for the Democrat than in 2000, when young voters split evenly, 48-46 percent, between Al Gore and Bush.
Young voters have been a key to Kerry's competitiveness; the latest results indicate that his challenges include not only encouraging their turnout, but also holding their loyalty.