October 31, 2004

Slight Bush Margin in Final Days of Campaign

No Impact Detected from bin Laden Tape

Summary of Findings

President George W. Bush holds a slight edge over Senator John Kerry in the final days of Campaign 2004. The Pew Research Center’s final pre-election poll of 1,925 likely voters, conducted Oct. 27-30, finds Bush with a three-point edge (48% to 45% for Kerry); Ralph Nader draws 1%, and 6% are undecided.

The poll finds indications that turnout will be significantly higher than in the two previous presidential elections, especially among younger people. Yet Bush gets the boost Republican candidates typically receive when the sample is narrowed from the base of 2,408 registered voters to those most likely to vote. (Among all registered voters, Kerry and Bush are in a virtual tie: 46% Kerry, 45% Bush).

Pew’s final survey suggests that the remaining undecided vote may break only slightly in Kerry’s favor. When both turnout and the probable decisions of undecided voters are taken into account in Pew’s final estimate, Bush holds a slight 51%-48% margin. The poll, taken over a four-day period, found the recent video tape from Osama bin Laden had no clear impact on voter preferences. Interviews conducted after the tape was released on Oct. 29 generally resembled the polling conducted on the two previous days.

The potential still exists for changes in voter opinion and, equally important, in the composition of the electorate on Nov. 2. While 6% of likely voters are undecided, another 8% still leave open the possibility of changing their vote.

In that regard, neither campaign has a clear advantage in reaching potential supporters. The survey confirms the extent to which the campaigns are concentrating their efforts in the battleground states. Six-in-ten voters in these contested states say they have been personally contacted ­ either face-to-face or by telephone ­ by one or both of the campaigns.

Patterns of Support Among Likely Voters

Bush holds a solid 52%-43% lead among men, but unlike four years ago, women divide their support fairly evenly ­ 48% support Kerry, while 44% back Bush. Married women and mothers slightly favor the president over Kerry; unmarried women decidedly support the Democratic challenger (see table pg. 4).

Kerry outpolls Bush among likely voters with a postgraduate education, while college graduates divide fairly evenly. Bush is favored by a majority of those who have attended college but have not earned a degree.

Among religious groups, Bush continues to have an overwhelming advantage among white evangelical Protestants, and he also leads among white mainline Protestants. The race is a toss-up among white Catholics. Regionally, Bush wins strong backing in the South and Midwest. Kerry enjoys majority support among voters in the East and West.

Each candidate garners the support of about 90% of their partisans. Kerry holds a slight 48%-44% margin among independent voters. Bush continues to hold a significant advantage among male veterans.

Voter choices are more correlated with views of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism than with opinions about the state of the national economy.

Early Voters

With 23 states now offering voters the opportunity to vote early ­ up from just 13 states four years ago ­ significant numbers say they have already voted or plan to do so before Election Day. Overall, 16% of likely voters say they voted early, and another 8% expect to cast ballots before Nov. 2; 76% say they will vote on Election Day. Nearly three-in-ten voters in western states (27%), where early voting has long been permitted, have already voted.

Both parties have aggressively encouraged early voting and the poll indicates that their efforts have largely balanced each other out. Among those who say they have already cast a ballot, Kerry received 48% and Bush 47%. Those who say they still plan to vote early divide 49% for Bush and 46% for Kerry.

Bush Victory Expected, But More Are Uncertain

By a wide margin, (48%-27%), more registered voters say Bush, rather than Kerry, is most likely to win Tuesday’s election. But there is decidedly more uncertainty on this score than at the beginning of the month, or even a few weeks ago. Currently, a quarter of voters decline to project an election outcome, up from 12% in early October.

Registered voters continue to view this election as very significant. More than eight-in-ten voters (84%) call the election outcome especially important, compared with 67% in the days prior to the 2000 election and just 61% at a comparable point in 1996.

As in previous polls, Bush’s supporters are much more enthusiastic than those backing Kerry. In fact, Bush registers a higher percentage of strong supporters in the final weekend of the campaign than any candidate since former President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Fully 39% of likely voters support Bush strongly, while 9% back him only moderately. Roughly three-in-ten likely voters say they support Kerry strongly (32%), and 13% back him moderately, a pattern more typical of recent presidential candidates.

Cite this publication: “Slight Bush Margin in Final Days of Campaign.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 31, 2004) http://www.people-press.org/2004/10/31/slight-bush-margin-in-final-days-of-campaign/, accessed on July 22, 2014.