Washington President Bush holds significant advantages over John Kerry in public perceptions of who is better equipped to deal with Iraq and the war on terrorism, and he has reduced the advantages his Democratic challenger held last month on many domestic issues, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll.
The poll also found that Iraq and the war on terrorism have surged in importance and rank with the economy and jobs as top voting issues. Despite signs of concern among Americans about the violence in Iraq, the poll showed Bush's approval ratings holding steady and Kerry's slipping on a variety of issues and attributes.
By 49 percent to 44 percent, Bush is viewed as better able to deal with the country's biggest problems. Five weeks ago, those numbers were reversed.
On the economy, Bush has erased Kerry's 12-point edge and is tied with the senator from Massachusetts on who can better deal with the country's economic problems.
In a matchup, Bush holds a lead of 48 percent to 43 percent over Kerry among registered voters, with independent Ralph Nader at 6 percent. In early March, Kerry led Bush 48 percent to 44 percent.
Bush's improved political standing has come during a difficult period for the president. Nearly 100 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq this month, more than in any month since major combat ended last year, and Bush faces growing criticism that he does not have a plan to stabilize the country.
At the same time, the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has heard testimony from former Bush White House counterterrorism head Richard Clarke that Bush ignored the threat of terrorism during the first eight months of his presidency.
During the past five weeks, however, Bush's re-election campaign has spent about $50 million on television ads, many of them critical of Kerry. At the same time, Kerry has been less visible than he was during the Democratic primaries and has struggled to get out his message over the volume of news about Iraq and terrorism.
Tad Devine, a top Kerry adviser, said he questioned the Post-ABC News poll's findings.
"That's not the way we see the race at all," he said. "We see a close horse race where, if anything, Kerry may have a small advantage or (be) tied. We see the Iraq issue as one that is hurting the president right now, not helping."
A total of 1,201 randomly selected adults were interviewed April 15-18 for this telephone survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points.