The poll also signals that next Tuesday’s election is likely to continue a generation-long pattern in which attitudes on noneconomic issues — including abortion and foreign policy — have increasingly eclipsed class as the axis of U.S. politics.
In its final days, the race is blurring some of the electorate’s familiar divides but emphatically deepening others, according to the poll.
Much smaller than in recent presidential elections is the gender gap, in which the majority of men usually vote Republican, and women usually lean Democratic.
Bush’s message, which stresses his national security record and his commitment to conservative cultural values, is helping him gain ground among lower middle-income and less-educated voters ambivalent about his economic record. Conversely, the message is costing him with more affluent and better-educated families that have historically supported Republicans.
Strikingly, Bush leads Kerry in the poll among lower- and middle-income white voters, but trails his rival among whites earning at least $100,000 per year.
Bush also runs best among voters without college degrees, whereas Kerry leads not only among college-educated women (a traditional Democratic constituency), but among college-educated men — usually one of the electorate’s most reliably Republican groups in the electorate.
Consistently in the poll, cultural indicators prove more powerful predictors of candidate support than economic status.
Although the differences in support for Bush and Kerry among men and women each is within the survey’s margin of error, the poll finds a huge “marriage gap.” Married voters, who traditionally take more conservative positions on social issues, give Bush a 12-percentage-point lead, whereas singles (usually more liberal on social and economic issues) prefer Kerry by 20 points.
Nearly two-thirds of likely voters who attend a house of worship at least weekly said they would vote for Bush; among whites who attend that often, Bush’s support soared to nearly three-fourths.
“To me, his faith is very important,” said Patricia Rowen, a married payroll clerk in Fort Dodge, Iowa, who favored Bush and responded to the poll.
But Kerry draws three-fifths of those who attend a house of worship less often, including 55% of whites. Some of these voters recoil against Bush’s heavy use of religious imagery.
“With all of Bush’s talk about being born again and how much that matters…. I sort of wonder what matters more to him: what the Bible says or what the modern, common sense thought would say,” said Bret Enderton, a computer programmer in Pittsburgh who is single.
Bush is backed in the poll by just more than three-fifths of Americans who own a gun; among those who don’t, just fewer than three-fifths prefer Kerry. The Democrat is supported by almost two-thirds of urban voters, Bush by nearly three-fifths of rural and small-town voters, with suburbanites split almost in half.
The poll suggests that Kerry is building a coalition of minorities (nearly three-fourths of whom back him), some lower-income whites, many affluent whites, and singles.
Bush’s coalition is centered on lower- to upper-middle income white voters, especially those who are married or regularly attend religious services.