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Perceptions help Bush

President's strengths raise stakes for Democrats at convention

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2004

WASHINGTON Voters see President Bush as decisive, likable and able to inspire optimism, an Associated Press poll found. They view Democrat John Kerry as intelligent and compassionate.

On the negative side, a majority of people said Bush is arrogant, and fewer than half said Kerry is decisive.

Presidential historian Charles Jones said he thinks the perception by two-thirds of voters that Bush is decisive could help him in November.

''This election is a lot about Bush, whether to keep him in office,'' Jones said. ''And decisiveness is one of the key characteristics of leadership.''

Some analysts say being decisive isn't necessarily a positive trait.

''Being decisive isn't good or bad, it's part of the job,'' said Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University. ''In this case, 67 percent is a number larger than the number who think he's doing a good job on Iraq or the economy and terrorism.

''Overall, these numbers are consistent with this being a close election,'' Shapiro said.

About half or slightly less in various polls approve of Bush's performance on Iraq and the economy, slightly more on terrorism.

The poll asked voters whether they would or would not use each of seven words likable, intelligent, decisive, compassionate, honest, arrogant and wealthy to describe Bush and then Kerry.

While 60 percent said Kerry was compassionate, about the same number, 59 percent, said that of Bush a finding that was surprising to public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute.

''The compassion number surprised me for Bush because we've heard a lot about erosion in that area,'' she said.

A majority of voters, 52 percent, said Bush is arrogant, while 44 percent viewed Kerry that way. Shapiro said those numbers do not present a real problem for either candidate because ''people in leadership are often perceived as arrogant.''

On several qualities, the two were very closely matched, such as honesty and compassion. Bush only had a slight edge on being likable.

''They both meet some important thresholds,'' said Bowman. ''You have solid majorities saying they are intelligent, likable and compassionate.''

Public opinion about Bush is firmly formed by now, while people are still trying to figure out what they think of Kerry, polling suggests.

''We can be pretty sure the numbers on the Bush side are more reliable than the numbers on the Kerry side,'' said Jones, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Slightly more people described Bush as wealthy, although both candidates are generally viewed as well-to-do.

Both men are multimillionaires, but Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, inherited more than $500 million from her late husband, Republican Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania.

Within the last week, Kerry's campaign has been energized by the selection of John Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, to be his running mate. They projected a sunny, optimistic message as they barnstormed through swing states last week.

When voters were asked which of the candidates makes them feel more optimistic about America, however, Bush had an edge. Half, 50 percent, chose Bush and 44 percent chose Kerry.

''People are looking for optimism when they look for leadership,'' said Republican pollster David Winston. ''The optimism number is the most important.''

The AP-Ipsos poll of 804 registered voters was taken July 5-7 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.



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