Poll: Bush's Loss Is Kerry's Gain

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry leave the presidential debates at near-parity in their personal popularity -- a significant gain for Kerry, and a loss of ground for Bush, that spell a toughly fought battle in the campaign's closing weeks.

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

Today 48 percent of likely voters have a basically favorable opinion of Kerry, up nine points since before the first debate; 43 percent view him unfavorably. In the same time Bush's unfavorable rating has gained six points -- 40 percent then, 46 percent now. Bush's advantage on favorability, the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity, is gone.


Important voter groups have shifted their basic opinions of the candidates since before the debates, underscoring the fact that movement is always possible -- even in this partisan election, in which 85 percent of voters say their minds are made up, and just 14 percent are either undecided or say there's a good chance they may switch.

White Catholics, one of the two ultimate swing voter groups in past elections, have gone from a 14-point negative personal rating of Kerry (36 percent to 50 percent favorable-unfavorable) before the first debate to a +9 positive rating (50 percent to 41 percent) now. Independents, the other, have gone from 35 percent to 47 percent favorable-unfavorable on Kerry then to a 47 percent to 45 percent split now.

Moveable voters know more about Kerry than they did before the debates and are more positive about him now. Then, they were slightly more negative on Kerry (28 percent to 37 percent favorable-unfavorable), with 35 percent no opinion. Now, 47 percent of moveables say they're favorable toward Kerry, 29 percent are unfavorable, and 23 percent still have no opinion -- a possible window of opportunity for Kerry here.

Views of the Candidates
Favorable Unfavorable
Bush (Now)49% 46
Kerry (Now)48 43
Bush (Sept. 26)53 40
Kerry (Sept. 26)39 45

Kerry's also improved his standing among women, moving from a 41 percent to 42 percent split to +15 points on favorability.

Bush, on the other hand, has seen a decline in his fortunes among some key groups. Before the debates white Catholics had been +29 points positive on Bush, and moveables +19 points positive; now both groups are about even. Independents were +7 more favorable toward Bush, and are now split in their opinions. Men were +19 points favorable toward Bush; that margin has shrunk to +9 now.

Both candidates have retained their standings among their respective bases; for Kerry, large majorities of Democrats, liberals and non-whites have favorable opinions of him, for Bush, Republicans and conservatives do.

Likely Voter Preference

The debates -- particularly the first debate, which Kerry was broadly seen as having won -- clearly changed the complexion of the contest, breathing new life into Kerry's campaign by lifting him over the hurdle of basic acceptability. And the rise in Bush's unfavorable rating suggests he did himself no particular favors in the same debates. The question is where the candidates, with their newfound parity in favorability and vote preference, go from here in the campaign's final sprint.


This poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 11-13 among a random national sample of 1,803 adults, including 1,577 registered voters and 1,202 likely voters. The results have a three-point error margin for the likely voter sample. Sampling, data collection and tabulation was conducted by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.