Poll: Presidential Personality Contest

President Bush maintains substantial leads on leadership and clarity and a smaller but significant edge on honesty in the eyes of likely voters -- important advantages that Sen. John Kerry will try again to counter at the third presidential debate.

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

Despite Kerry's progress at the first debate in establishing better personal appeal, the latest ABC News tracking poll shows voters by 23 points continue to say Bush has taken a clearer stand on the issues, and by 20 points say he's a stronger leader. Bush leads by a smaller seven-point margin on honesty and trustworthiness, which voters have cited as the most important candidate attribute. The two are essentially tied on who better understands Americans' problems.

All these are little changed since before the debates, and underscore the work Kerry has cut out for him Wednesday night.

Personal Attributes
Applies More to Bush Applies More to Kerry
Taken a clear stand57% 34
Strong leader56 36
Honest & trustworthy47 40
Understands your problems44 46

Overall, the race is holding steady: Fifty percent of likely voters support Bush, 46 percent support Kerry, 1 percent Ralph Nader in ABC News tracking poll interviews Saturday through Monday. That's exactly where the race has been the last few days.


Fifteen percent remain movable -- meaning they are undecided (2 percent) or might change their minds (13 percent). Bush holds the edge among those who say their minds are definitely made up, 53 percent to 47 percent. Movables, though, divide by 45 percent-39 percent Kerry-Bush. Kerry's task Wednesday night and beyond is to win over more of them.

He has a shot: Moveables include more moderates, more independents and they're more favorably inclined toward Kerry personally. Kerry's favorable rating among movables is eight points higher than Bush's, and his unfavorable rating is 14 points lower. More moveables are undecided about him.

Favorable-Unfavorable Views of the Candidates
Bush Kerry
Definites54-44% 47-48
Movables42-43 50-29

Favorability Factor

Overall, 47 percent of likely voters have a favorable impression of Kerry, 45 percent unfavorable. That's better than it was before the first presidential debate (39 percent to 45 percent), but Kerry's going to want to bring it into more positive territory. Bush's overall favorability rating is 52 percent to 44 percent among all likely voters.

There's a wide gender gap in these. Men view Bush favorably by 14 points, while women divide about evenly. In contrast, women view Kerry favorably by 13 points, while men see him unfavorably by 10 points.

Independents, the key swing voters, are closely divided in their ratings of the candidates, 48 percent-47 percent favorable-unfavorable on Bush, 48 percent-44 percent on Kerry. It's similar in the horse race: Forty-eight percent of independents support Bush, 46 percent Kerry.

However, Bush leads Kerry by double digits among independents on the qualities of leadership and clarity. Kerry leads by a narrow seven points in this group on empathy.

Favorable-Unfavorable Views of the Candidates
Bush Kerry
All52-44% 47-45
Men55-41 41-51
Women48-47 53-40


Religion is a dividing factor in vote preferences. About two-thirds of white Protestants support Bush, including evangelical white Protestants (a core Bush group, they favor him by 68 percent to 27 percent) and non-evangelicals (61 percent to 36 percent) alike.

Bush's support jumps to about nine in 10 among conservative evangelical white Protestants, who account for about one in 10 likely voters. Kerry, meanwhile, holds a 27-point lead among likely voters who profess no religion (also about one in 10 voters).

Bush has an edge among white Catholics, who, along with independents, are a key swing voter group in presidential elections (their majority preference changes from election to election, and there's enough of them to affect the outcome). Fifty-two percent favor him, 45 percent Kerry. But Kerry has narrowed this gap after trailing Bush by 17 points among white Catholics before the debates.

Vote by Religion
Support Bush Support Kerry
White Protestants65% 31
White Catholics52 45
No Religion35 62

White Protestants are more likely to say Bush better understands the problems of people like them, but on this question evangelicals and non-evangelicals differ: Evangelical white Protestants say Bush better understands them by a 40-point margin; non-evangelicals, by a smaller 11-point margin. White Catholics are nearly evenly split, while nonreligious people say Kerry better understands their problems by 38 points.


This poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 9-11 among a random national sample of 1,808 adults, including 1,575 registered voters and 1,232 likely voters. The results have a three-point error margin for the likely voter sample. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.