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The Nation | THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

In Tight Race, 'Bounce' Wobbles

Post-convention polls show mixed results for Kerry, as neutral analysts expected.

August 03, 2004|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Sen. John F. Kerry enjoyed at best a modest uptick in a batch of opinion polls taken after last week's Democratic National Convention, findings consistent with the forecast of most analysts heading into the event.

One survey showed President Bush actually gaining slightly on his Democratic challenger. And the samplings all indicate the presidential contest remains close.

Strategists for the two candidates worked to put their own best spin on the latest surveys, but neutral analysts said the results were in line with a political climate in which a great number of voters had already dug in behind their candidate.

Although the "bounce" Kerry received in some of the polls was small, "that's not surprising, given the swing vote is small," said Andy Kohut, director of Pew Research Center, an independent polling organization. "It's not a sea change in public attitudes toward John Kerry, but a step in the right direction."

The surveys generally showed Kerry gaining ground against Bush in a several areas, including his ability to fight terrorism and handle the economy. Strategists for the Massachusetts senator pointed to those results Monday in pronouncing themselves pleased with the post-convention numbers.

"We said from the get-go that we didn't really expect to see any movement in the horse race, given the fact that the electorate is so polarized and we went in one or two points ahead," said Mark Mellman, who conducts surveys for the Kerry campaign.

He noted that in the past, candidates who received the largest boost from conventions had been significantly behind their opponents heading into the gatherings.

"There was significant movement in people's underlying perception of John Kerry, and that's what we were trying to accomplish," Mellman said.

But strategists for Bush suggested the polls were an embarrassment and a danger sign for Kerry. They said he should have gotten a bigger lift following four days of mostly positive exposure.

"Democrats themselves said the convention was a big opportunity for voters to finally see and hear from Kerry, since they there were so many who didn't know him," said Matthew Dowd, a chief Bush campaign strategist.

"So what happened?"

Most of the post-convention surveys showed Kerry gaining a bit of ground against Bush, in the range of 3 or so percentage points, but his lead over the president still fell within the margin of error.

The exception was a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, which by one measure found Bush barely ahead -- though within the margin of error -- and by another showed the race dead even.

In a three-way race that included independent candidate Ralph Nader, Bush led Kerry among likely voters, 50% to 46%. Nader got 2%. But among registered voters, Bush and Kerry each had 47%, with Nader again at 2%.

In both samples, the error margin was plus or minus 4 percentage points

The most recent of the polls, an ABC News/Washington Post survey of registered voters released Monday, found Kerry leading Bush, 50% to 44%. That was up from the two-point Kerry lead, 48% to 46%, on the eve of the convention. Nader received 2% in the latest survey, 3% in the earlier poll.

The margin of error for the new results were plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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Times Staff Writer Matea Gold contributed to this report.

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