The public divides on whether Bush should get credit for the fact that there hasn't been another attack on U.S. soil since then — 51 percent say yes, 48 percent no. But even if not cognitively, it still accrues to his benefit: Among people who say the country is safer, Bush has a nearly 40-point lead over Kerry, 67 percent to 28 percent.
Bush has improved his position in the past month among the one in five registered voters who pick Iraq as the single most important issue in their choice; while he now trails Kerry by 56 percent to 38 percent in this group, it'd been 72 percent to 26 percent after the Democratic convention.
Kerry has retained a sizable lead among those who say the economy is their top issue (even though Bush has improved vs. Kerry on this issue more broadly, across all registered voters). But among those who say the top issue in their vote is terrorism, Bush leads Kerry by a huge 87 percent to 12 percent. The nation's response to terrorism has been the wellspring of Bush's support, and as such it's the issue he can be expected to stress above all others this week.
Attitudes and Favorability
As important as issues are attributes — voter perceptions of the candidates' personal qualities — and on these Bush has rebounded as well. His best is strong leadership, a 54 percent to 39 percent Bush advantage over Kerry; it was 50-44 percent after the Democratic convention.
Bush also has a 13-point advantage as the candidate who'll make the country safer and more secure, up from just +3 on Aug. 1. And he's turned a six-point deficit as more "honest and trustworthy" into a six-point advantage.
Kerry led by 13 points after his convention as having "a vision for the future"; now it's Kerry +3. And Kerry's edge on understanding "the problems of people like you" has eased from 14 points then to six points now.
Personal favorability, the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity, is another problem for Kerry. Last March, as he emerged victorious from the Democratic primaries, 54 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of him, 26 percent unfavorable. On Aug. 1, after his convention, it was 51 percent to 32 percent. Today it's 43 percent to 40 percent.
Bush's favorability rating, at 50 percent to 40 percent, is better than Kerry's in this survey, and Vice President Dick Cheney's, at 41 percent to 45 percent, isn't that much worse. For inspiration all three might look to Laura Bush; 66 percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of her. (She even terminates California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a 46 percent to 29 percent favorability rating, with many withholding judgment.)
This poll suggests collateral damage rather than a direct hit from the "swift boat" ads questioning Kerry's military service. They may have moved Kerry off his message, and they may have sown some doubts among a minority of registered voters: Four in 10 either don't think Kerry legitimately earned his medals (23 percent) or are unsure (17 percent). That includes 36 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats, soaring to 64 percent of Republicans.
Still, however, six in 10 believe Kerry did earn his decorations, and 67 percent disapprove of the ads. Fewer, though, 42 percent, accept his contention that the Bush campaign was behind them.