Bush/Kerry in New Jersey Remains Close
John Kerry and George Bush remain neck and neck in New Jersey, according to the Fairleigh Dickinson University election tracking poll which began on September 23 and will run through the entire month of October. When “leaners”are included, Kerry leads among likely voters by just 45%-44% with another 10% still undecided, and 2% for a third party candidate such as Nader.
Kerry holds a slight lead among independents by 38%-35%, but 25% are still undecided. Meanwhile, men are split, with 46% supporting Bush and 45% supporting Kerry. Women break slightly for Kerry, by 45%-42%.
“We are entering October, and John Kerry is still relying on George Bush to give voters a reason to vote Democratic,”said Bruce Larson, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and survey analyst for PublicMind. “At this point, Kerry must use the debates to define himself as something more than the anti-Bush candidate—to persuade voters that he is an acceptable alternative to Bush and that he can be trusted to guide the United States through the post 9/11 world.”
The challenger’s weaker-than-expected showing in a state that leans Democratic comes despite the fact that only 35% of likely voters say the country is headed in the right direction. A majority (52%) say the country is “off on the wrong track.”Even a majority of independents (56%) say the country is on the wrong track. Likewise, just 45% of likely voters rate the incumbent President’s job performance as good (29%) or excellent (16%); only 36% rate the President’s handling of the economy as good or excellent; and only 43% rate his handling of foreign affairs and national security as excellent. Moreover, for the first time since PublicMind began polling on this issue, majorities (57%) say that the U.S. military effort in Iraq is not going well and that the war was a mistake (51%). “That Kerry has not been more successful against a president with these numbers illustrates that, although voters may be dissatisfied with Bush, they don’t yet see Kerry as a viable alternative,”said Larson.
Asked whether they are satisfied with the choice of candidates, a majority of Republicans (52%) say they are satisfied while a majority of Democrats (59%) wish there were different candidates to choose from. “Kerry has just not energized his natural base,”added Larson. “
Asked which issue is most important in deciding their vote, a plurality (42%) choose “national security and the war on terror.”And of those who choose national security as the most important, two-thirds (66%) say Bush will do a better job. On every other issue, likely voters say Kerry will do a better job.
Asked which quality is most important in deciding their presidential choice, voters split 33% for “honest and trustworthy”and 31% for “a strong leader.”Of those who say “a strong leader”is the most important quality, 67% say Bush is that person. Those who choose “honest and trustworthy”split, with 41% for Kerry and 39% for Bush.
Two-thirds (66%) of voters say Bush is likely to win in November: 88% of Republicans say so, as do 60% of independents and even 49% of Democrats. Only 34% of Democrats think that Kerry will win. “That Democrats have so little faith in their nominee is potentially demoralizing,”added Larson. “And the lack of enthusiasm and confidence among Democrats could cause some of them to stay home on Election Day.”Still, 60% say they think Kerry will win New Jersey in November, and even Republican voters tend to agree.
“October can be a month of surprises in Presidential election years,”said Larson. “The debates have the potential to shift the momentum of the campaign, but they can also serve to reinforce positive or negative impressions of the candidates. How the candidates fare in the debates will be pivotal as we head into the home stretch.”
While other polls have shown the NJ presidential race fluctuating, PublicMind polls taken in April just after Kerry clinched the Democratic Nomination, and in July, just before the party conventions, showed Bush and Kerry close. In April, PublicMind poll showed Kerry leading Bush by 48-47% among registered voters. In July, the poll showed Kerry leading by 45-43% among registered voters.
This PublicMind poll of 489 likely voters was conducted from September 23 through September 28 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points.
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