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Inside Politics

Poll: Bush has lead on Kerry

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush increased his lead over Sen. John Kerry in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday, but fewer than half of the respondents said they approved of the way Bush is handling of the war in Iraq.

Bush led Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, 51 percent to 46 percent in the survey of likely voters, which was conducted Friday through Sunday. The survey interviewed 1,003 adults, including a subsample of 767 respondents deemed most likely to vote in November.

When consumer activist Ralph Nader's independent candidacy was factored in, the survey's results were 50 percent for Bush, 44 percent for Kerry and 4 percent for Nader among likely voters.

The previous CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, conducted April 5-8, showed Bush leading Kerry 48 percent to 45 percent among likely voters.

Neither the intensified fighting in Iraq nor the public hearings held by the independent commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks appear to have hurt Bush's overall standing -- in part, the current poll suggests, because Kerry has not convinced Americans of his ability to handle those issues.

With the current survey's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points among likely voters, Bush and Kerry remain locked in a dead heat more than six months before the November election.

A broader survey of registered voters gave the president a 50 percent to 46 percent lead over Kerry in a two-man race. And among all adults, Bush led Kerry 49 percent to 46 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bush's approval rating held steady in the most recent poll, with 52 percent of those surveyed approving of his performance in office and 45 percent disapproving. The president's handling of terrorism-related issues remained his strongest point in the poll, with adults surveyed approving of his performance, 60 percent to 39 percent.

Forty-six percent approved of Bush's handling of the economy, while 52 percent disapproved -- but those figures were an improvement over the last survey in which 42 percent approved of his economic stewardship.

However, 48 percent said they approved of his handling of the war in Iraq -- a three-point decline from the previous survey -- while 49 percent disapproved.

When asked which candidate would do a good job handling the situation in Iraq as the next president 40 percent backed Bush, 26 percent backed Kerry and 15 percent thought both would do a good job.

A narrow majority, 52 percent, said the war in Iraq was worthwhile, while 46 percent said it was not. That number is down sharply from a year ago, when U.S. troops marched into Baghdad and forced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to flee.

At that time, 76 percent of those surveyed approved of the war. And in mid-December, when Saddam was captured, 65 percent of those polled said the conflict was worthwhile.

Among likely voters, 39 percent said economic issues would be the most important to them in deciding which candidate to vote for, while 28 percent said terrorism and 22 percent named the war in Iraq.

After more than a month of intensive anti-Kerry television commercials by Bush's re-election campaign, 54 percent of voters said they had a favorable impression of the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, and more voters said they thought Kerry would do a better job handling the economy than the president.

After weeks of Bush campaign attacks accusing Kerry of flip-flops on issues, voters were evenly split, 44 percent to 44 percent, over whether the senator "means what he says and says what he means."

On the same question, 56 percent of voters said Bush means what he says, while 42 percent said they disagreed with that statement.

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