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Poll finds Bush and Kerry in virtual tie

Two weeks before Election Day, voters hold a sharply critical view of President Bush's record in office, but they have strong reservations about Sen. John Kerry, leaving the race in a tie, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Bush's job approval rating is at 44 percent, a dangerously low number for an incumbent president, and one of the lowest of his tenure. A majority of voters said that they disapproved of the way Bush had managed the economy and the war in Iraq and — echoing a refrain of Kerry's — that his tax cuts had favored the wealthy. Voters said that Kerry would do a better job of preserving Social Security, creating jobs and ending the war in Iraq.

Still, the poll found the two candidates each drawing 46 percent of all registered voters in a head-to-head race. Among likely voters in a two-way race, Bush has 47 percent to 46 percent for Kerry.

The Times/CBS Poll was conducted over the four days since Bush and Kerry concluded the last of their three debates. Some other polls taken during that time have shown Bush in a slightly stronger position among what they described as likely voters. The variations reflect the difficulty of determining who is going to vote, particularly in a campaign in which both sides have invested so much of their resources in registering new voters.

Whatever problems Bush may be experiencing as he comes to the end of his first term, his position continues to be bolstered by concern about terrorism. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they had a lot of confidence or some confidence that Bush would make the right decisions to prevent another terrorist attack — compared with 62 percent who said they felt that way about Kerry.

In addition, a majority of Americans continue to see Kerry as an untrustworthy politician who will say what he thinks people want to hear. More than half of respondents said they considered Kerry liberal, reflecting a dominant line of attack by Bush this fall.

The poll findings were highly unusual, even in this most unusual of election years, in that many measures used by pollsters to determine the strength of an incumbent — from job approval to the percentage of Americans who believe the country is heading in the wrong direction (59 percent) — would normally signal trouble for an incumbent.