WASHINGTON - The GOP convention gave President Bush a double-digit lead, but the race has settled into a virtual tie with voters still worried about the economy and Iraq, according to polling by the Pew Research Center.
The first of two national polls by Pew, done Sept. 8-10, reflected the president's post-convention bounce. Bush was ahead of Democrat John Kerry 52-40 among registered voters and by an even wider margin, 54-39, among likely voters, a narrower group.
By the second poll, done Sept. 11-14, the Bush lead had evaporated. In that poll, Bush and Kerry were knotted at 46 percent among registered voters. Among likely voters, Bush was at 47 percent and Kerry at 46 percent.
"There is a great deal of instability and uncertainty in the electorate," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. "This poll finds a lot of the positive impact Bush had in the convention remains. But Bush's vulnerabilities on Iraq and the economy continue, and these have anchored the race."
After the Republican convention and its well-orchestrated criticism of Kerry, Bush grabbed a lead ranging from 5 points to 11 points in various national polls. That lead appeared to be shrinking in some polls by late last week, and a Harris poll out Thursday showed the race even.
"This gives Kerry an opportunity to stay in the hunt," said Kohut. "Some of the negatives that Kerry accumulated during the Republican convention have worn away."
Kerry's unfavorable ratings increased after the GOP convention but dropped slightly between the two waves of the poll. Fewer voters in the second poll had an unfavorable view of the Democrat, said Kerry is too quick to change his mind, and believed the risk of terrorism would be higher if he were elected.
Bush continues to hold a commanding lead on who would do the best job of defending the country from terrorists by 58 percent to 31 percent. And he's seen by more as a strong leader.
But people are more likely to disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy and are evenly split on his handling of Iraq. Almost six in 10 said it's not clear what Bush will do about Iraq if he is re-elected.
Two-thirds thought Vice President Dick Cheney went too far when he suggested that if voters "make the wrong choice" on Election Day there is a danger "we'll get hit again" by terrorists.
Interest in the presidential debates is high with 61 percent saying it's very likely they will tune in to watch - compared with 43 percent who said that in September 2000. Three in 10 said the debates will matter in their voting decision.
By a 3-1 margin, voters said they think Bush is likely to win re-election in November.
The first poll of 970 registered voters was taken Sept. 8-10 and the second poll of 1,002 registered voters was taken Sept. 11-14. The margin of sampling error for both polls was 3.5 percentage points.