Race close; polls send mixed messages

Sen. John F. Kerry enjoyed at best a modest uptick - if that - in a batch of opinion polls taken after last week's Democratic National Convention, findings consistent with the forecast of most analysts heading into the event.

One survey showed President Bush gaining slightly on his Democratic challenger. And the samplings all indicate the presidential contest remains close.


Strategists for the two candidates worked to put their own best spin on the latest surveys, but analysts said the results were in line with a political climate in which a great number of voters have already dug in behind their candidate.

While the "bounce" Kerry received in some of the polls was small, "that's not surprising, given the swing vote is small," said Andy Kohut, president of Pew Research Center, an independent research organization. "It's not a sea change in public attitudes toward John Kerry, but a step in the right direction."


The surveys generally showed Kerry gaining ground against Bush in a several areas, including his ability to fight terrorism and handle the economy. Strategists for the Massachusetts senator pointed to those results yesterday in pronouncing themselves pleased with the post-convention soundings.

But strategists for Bush suggested the polls were an embarrassment and a danger sign for Kerry. They said he should have gotten a bigger lift after four days of largely unfiltered, mostly positive exposure.

"Democrats themselves said the convention was a big opportunity for voters to finally see and hear from Kerry, since they there were so many who didn't know him," said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for Bush's re-election effort and a survey researcher by trade. "So what happened?

Most of the surveys showed Kerry gaining a bit of ground against Bush, in the range of 3 or so percentage points, but his lead over the president still falling within the margin of error.

The most recent of the polls, an ABC News/Washington Post survey of registered voters released yesterday, found Kerry leading Bush 50 percent to 44 percent. That was up from a two-point Kerry lead, 48 percent to 46 percent, in polling on the convention's eve. Nader received 2 percent in the latest survey, 3 percent in the earlier poll.

The margin of error for the new results was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.