President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are locked in a tie for the popular vote, according to an Associated Press poll. Voters seem open to change in the White House. Most disapprove of the president's performance at home and in Iraq but still harbor doubts about making the switch.
Bush's strength continues to be in a perception by voters that he is the most qualified to protect the country, though his advantage has dwindled in recent weeks. Some 56 percent say the country is on the wrong track.
In the AP-Ipsos Public Affairs poll, the Democratic ticket of Kerry and Sen. John Edwards got support from 49 percent of those who said they were likely to vote, and the Republican team of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney got 46 percent, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The Oct. 18-20 survey, released Thursday, included 976 likely voters.
A spate of other polls shows the race is tied or gives Bush a slight lead nationwide. The presidency will go to whoever gets a majority of the 538 Electoral College votes, a state-by-state chase that is just as close as national surveys.
Likely voters are divided on many levels:
They are just as likely to back Democrats for Congress as Republicans, with a 47-46 split favoring Democrats. That is essentially a tie.
Twenty-four percent say they have already voted or will cast ballots before Election Day. Those who voted early were just as likely to back Kerry as Bush.
A third of likely voters have been contacted by a candidate, campaign or outside group seeking support. Twenty-three percent said they were urged to back Kerry and 21 percent said they were asked to support Bush, a sign that two massive get-out-the-vote campaigns have had equal success contacting voters.
Less than half, 47 percent, approve of Bush's job performance. A rating below 50 percent spells trouble for any incumbent, and Bush falls below that threshold on the economy, domestic affairs and handling Iraq.
In each case, Bush's approval numbers have held steady since the AP-Ipsos poll taken after the first presidential debate.
That Bush performance, roundly criticized on style and substance, helped lower the president's standing against Kerry from early September, when the incumbent led in the head-to-head match up and had higher approval scores.
A majority, 51 percent, support the president's handling of foreign policy and the war on terror. By 7 percentage points, they think he would protect the country better than Kerry. That is similar to the AP-Ipsos poll earlier in the month, but down from a 23-point advantage in March.
Voters are evenly split on who would do the best job on Iraq. They find the candidates equally honest and likable, but Bush is viewed as much more decisive.
By an 18-point margin, Kerry is seen as best suited to create jobs for workers.