Several new national polls released within a day of the first debate show President Bush either tied or leading the race.
A Los Angeles Times survey [pdf] gives Bush a four-point lead over Kerry among registered voters, an Economist poll [pdf] calls the race even at 46 percent among registered voters, and a Harris Interactive internet poll of likely voters splits the difference, finding Bush up by two.
In addition to the horse race numbers, Harris also provides an interesting breakdown of how voting intentions correspond to educational background: It turns out the more education a person has received, the more likely he or she is to support Kerry. Bush's numbers are best in the lowest category, "high school or less," where he gets 51 percent of the vote. But he's an underachiever among those with a college degree (45 percent), and flunks out with a solid F-minus (37 percent) among those with graduate degrees.
The LA Times poll also covered expectations for the debate. While pundits often joke about Bush as a fumbler at the podium, and Kerry as a plodding erudite, voters seems to have a different view. Forty-eight percent of likely voters think Bush will demonstrate "strong character," compared to only 20 percent that have faith in Kerry -- and by a slight margin, 33-31, likely voters think Bush will appear more knowledgeable than his opponent.
The poll's good news for Kerry is that a segment of Bush supporters are open to persuasion: Twenty-three percent of Republicans said "the debate could have an effect" on the way they vote, compared to only 13 percent of Democrats.
Though the vast majority of Americans have already decided who they plan on voting for, an Annenberg study released this week shows that a hefty percentage of them lack a basic understanding of the candidates' positions. Forty percent of Americans didn't know Bush was the candidate in favor of permanently implementing the tax cuts, 53 percent couldn't identify Bush as the candidate who favors partially privatizing social security, and a full third of Americans were unaware that Bush is in favor of laws making it tougher for a woman to get an abortion.
Those surveyed were also in the dark about Kerry, with nearly half unaware of Kerry's position on laws making it easier for unions to organize, and for drugs to be imported from Canada. A majority had no idea that Kerry is in favor of ending tax breaks for corporations' overseas profits.