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New Poll Shows Bush, Gore Neck-and-Neck With Voters

By Dan Balz

and Richard Morin
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

Al Gore and George W. Bush are locked in a dead-even race for the White House, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll, with Gore having consolidated gains he made at his convention and enjoying the edge on who is best equipped to handle the issues voters say are most important to them.

The Post-ABC poll reveals an electorate that is sharply divided over the choice for president in November but relatively contented with both major party candidates. With two months remaining before election day, the poll foreshadows a fiercely competitive contest ahead as Gore attempts to capitalize on the strong economy and Bush seeks to make a compelling case for changing parties after eight years of Democratic control.

In a four-way matchup, Gore and Bush each received 47 percent support among likely voters, with Green Party nominee Ralph Nader at 3 percent and disputed Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan an asterisk. In a two-way race, Bush led Gore 49 percent to 47 percent.

The polls taken immediately after Labor Day this year are considered especially important by presidential candidates because they are the first that measure the lasting impact of the summer political conventions, and they mark the moment in the race that many Americans begin to pay serious attention to the candidates.

In the past four elections, the candidate ahead at Labor Day has gone on to win the White House. Twice since World War II -- in 1960 and 1980 -- the races were statistically tied at this stage. The 1960 race stayed close until the end, with John F. Kennedy narrowly defeating Richard M. Nixon. The 1980 contest broke open in late October, with Ronald Reagan easily defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter. Both campaigns said they expect this race to remain competitive until the end.

The new Post-ABC findings represent a slight narrowing in the race since the weekend immediately after Gore’s convention last month, when the Democratic nominee led Bush by 48-44 percent. But more important, the polls shows the clear shift that has occurred since July, just before the two major party conventions were held, when Bush led Gore by 8 percentage points.

Unlike Bush, who surged to a double-digit lead at the time of the GOP convention, only to see it begin to evaporate the following week, Gore has retained most of the support following his convention.

The race has polarized along classic lines. Men support Bush by 52-38 percent, while women support Gore by an identical margin. Gore enjoys the support of about eight in 10 Democrats, while Bush has the backing of almost nine in 10 Republicans. Independent voters narrowly favor Bush. Gore holds a clear lead in the Northeast, but in every other region, including the battleground Midwest, the poll finds the race is statistically tied.

Gore not only has wiped out Bush’s overall lead, but also has gained an edge on a number of key questions of character and on issues.

The poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,065 registered voters nationwide, including 738 likely voters and was conducted Sept. 4-6. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points and 4 percentage points for results based on the sample of likely voters.