Poll: Bush Has Slight Lead in Pa.

Economic concerns are keeping Sen. John Kerry competitive in Pennsylvania, while security and strength of leadership work best for President Bush — and the president has an edge in on-the-ground retail politicking in this sharply contested state, an ABC News poll shows.

About one in five registered voters in Pennsylvania, 21 percent, say they've been contacted by a representative of the Bush campaign asking for their support. That compares with 14 percent who've been contacted by the Kerry campaign. The difference is a small but real one — and in a tight race, this kind of retailing can be crucial to turnout.

The race is essentially tied. The poll found 49 percent of likely voters in Pennsylvania support Bush, 48 percent Kerry. With Ralph Nader in the contest — he's currently off the ballot pending legal appeal — it's 49 percent-46 percent-2 percent. (Among all registered voters, not just those likely to vote, it's 48 percent-48 percent, or 47 percent-47 percent-2 percent with Nader.)

Another race in the state is not as close: incumbent Republican Sen. Arlen Specter leads Democratic challenger Joseph Hoeffel by 55 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. There's a sizable crossover vote, with nearly a third of Kerry's supporters crossing the aisle to back Specter. (Just 13 percent of Bush's support Hoeffel.)

The presidential contest in Pennsylvania is closer than in last week's national ABC News/Washington Post poll. One reason is that there are more Democrats than Republicans among the voter pool (whether this holds on Election Day remains to be seen); also, Kerry is more competitive in the state on issues including the economy, health care and education.

But Bush is very strong in his key areas — security, clarity, leadership — and he's attracting twice as many Democrats (14 percent) as Kerry is Republicans (7 percent). Bush's job approval rating among registered voters is 51 percent, ever so slightly over half, and about what it is nationally.

Issues

Registered voters in Pennsylvania prefer Kerry by an eight-point margin, 50 percent-42 percent, in trust to handle the economy; nationally last week it was Bush +4. And Kerry has 10- to 14-point leads in the state in trust to handle health care and the economic issues of "helping the middle class" and "creating jobs," compared with bare single-digit margins on these nationally.

Still, while Kerry has larger leads on more issues, Bush holds a 16-point advantage in trust to handle terrorism, a central issue here as elsewhere. In a related gauge, 58 percent say the nation is safer now than before Sept. 11, 2001, and they favor Bush by nearly a 40-point margin, 68 percent-29 percent. (However, more nationally, 64 percent, say the nation is safer.)

The importance of issues is quite similar in Pennsylvania as nationally. Thirty-one percent in the state say the economy is the most important issue in their vote; last week it was 27 percent nationally. Twenty-one percent say it's terrorism (25 percent nationally). Iraq is cited as the top issue by 18 percent in Pennsylvania, health care by 15 percent.

Among the one in five voters who say terrorism is their No. 1 issue, Bush holds a huge 7-1 lead in support, 86 percent-13 percent. Kerry leads by 2-1 among those who say either the economy or Iraq is the top issue in their vote, and by 24 points among health-care voters. As in the list above, Kerry wins on more issues — but Bush wins bigger on his issue, the nation's response to terrorism.

On other issue measures, Pennsylvanians are slightly less satisfied than all Americans with the nation's direction overall (54 percent dissatisfied, compared with a 49 percent-49 percent split nationally), and slightly less likely to say the war in Iraq was worth fighting (46 percent say so, compared with 51 percent nationally). These differences probably owe much to the partisan divisions, with more Democrats in Pennsylvania.

On the economy, 43 percent of Pennsylvanians say most people in their state are worse off since Bush took office; that's essentially the same as the national reading. That group favors Kerry by 8-1, while Bush wins the rest by 4-1.

Attributes

In Pennsylvania as nationally, Bush prevails on more personal attributes. Registered voters in the state by a 20-point margin say Bush has taken a clearer stand on the issues (it's similar nationally). They also say by 17 points that Bush is the stronger leader, and by 12 points that he'd "make the country safer and more secure."

Kerry, by contrast, leads in just one attribute, +10 on "understands the problems of people like you." But he is more competitive on others — i.e., evenly matched on "shares your values" and about even on "better qualified to be commander in chief." Nationally Bush leads in both of these.

Favorite

In the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity, 48 percent of Pennsylvania's registered voters have a favorable opinion of Bush, while 42 percent have a favorable opinion of Kerry. Neither, though, is particularly popular: Bush's favorable rating exceeds his unfavorable score by five points and Kerry's net favorable is +4.

As in other measures, that's perhaps a bit worse for Bush than it was nationally last week (+12 favorable) and better for Kerry, who had a six-point net negative favorability rating nationally.

For / Against

As is the case nationally, Kerry is receiving more of a negative vote than an affirmative one: Fifty-four percent of his supporters in Pennsylvania say they're more against Bush than for Kerry. Among Bush's supporters, by contrast, 81 percent are mainly for him, rather than against Kerry.

Still, Kerry does better, and Bush worse, on enthusiasm in Pennsylvania than nationally. Fifty-one percent of Bush's supporters in the state are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy, compared with 63 percent in last week's national poll. Kerry's support is 47 percent very enthusiastic in the state, compared with 39 percent nationally.

As last week's national poll found, it's possible to move enough voters to make a change in the horse race — but it's not easy. In Pennsylvania, just 15 percent say there's any chance they might change their minds, and 6 percent say there's a good chance of it — a very small pool of moveables (about the same as nationally). They're also hard to reach: Moveables are following the race less closely and less apt to be sure they'll vote.

Among all registered voters in Pennsylvania, 47 percent are following the race "very closely," almost exactly the same as the level of attention at the national level (high compared with 2000).

Groups

There are significant gaps in presidential preference among population groups in Pennsylvania, as there are nationally. Among registered voters, men favor Bush by nine points while women favor Kerry by nine; whites favor Bush by nine points while nonwhites prefer Kerry by 56; it's Bush +11 among veterans and Kerry +29 among union members.

Bush has a huge 78 percent-20 percent lead among evangelical white Protestants in the state (about the same as nationally), while it's essentially tied, 49 percent-47 percent, among non-evangelical white Protestants (Bush +8 nationally). Each group accounts for about one in six Pennsylvania voters

.

White Catholics, a quintessential swing voter group, account for three in 10 Pennsylvania registered voters (nearly double their national share), and they divide fairly closely — 51 percent favor Kerry, 46 percent Bush. Nationally, it's Bush +7 points in this group.

There also are sizable regional differences in Pennsylvania — a 63-point Kerry lead among registered voters in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, 16 points in Pittsburgh and the west and 12 points in the Philadelphia suburbs. Bush comes back with a 37-point lead in the central and northern counties, and a closer five-point edge in the state's northeast.

In their direct contact with voters, the campaigns are about evenly effective: Among Pennsylvanians who've been contacted by Bush representatives, 71 percent support him; among those who've heard from the Kerry campaign, 66 percent are on his side. A difference, as noted above, is that the Bush camp has made more contacts.

Senate Race

Specter, for his part, is winning women by nine points and men by a whopping 29. He's winning 55 percent of union voters, compared with Bush's 33 percent; three in 10 Democrats and more than a third of liberals; and 40 percent support from nonwhites, compared with Bush's 16 percent.

Likely voters in this survey account for 55 percent of the general population in Pennsylvania. Among this group, 41 percent identify themselves as Democrats, 36 percent as Republicans and 19 percent as independents. That's more Democratic than the party affiliation in the last ABC/Washington Post national poll (32 percent-38 percent-26 percent). It's also slightly different from recent exit poll results; in the last two presidential elections, Democrats accounted for an average of 41 percent of Pennsylvania voters on Election Day, Republicans for 40 percent.

If the race in Pennsylvania stays close, turnout will be crucial, which adds to the importance of the "ground war" — the extent to which the campaigns personally contact their supporters, and motivate them to show up on Nov. 2.

Methodology

This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 9-12 among a random sample of 1,202 Pennsylvanians, including 960 registered voters. The results have a three-point error margin for registered voters, 3.5 points for likely voters. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.

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