skip to main content

Traditional Political Divisions Evident in 2004 Vote

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup Poll Managing Editor

Gallup polling continues to suggest a close presidential election between Republican incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry. While much of the campaign remains to be played out, an analysis of recent Gallup data on voter intention shows that the traditional political divisions are already well in place.

Men, conservatives, frequent churchgoers, those in higher-income households, and married people are solidly aligned behind Bush. Conversely, blacks, women, liberals, and unmarried people are more likely to back Kerry. The data also suggest the electoral map could look very similar to how it did in 2000 -- with Bush leading by a wide margin in states he won comfortably in 2000, Kerry leading by a large margin in states Al Gore won easily in 2000, and the competitive states remaining closely contested.

The following results are taken from combined data from the three most recent Gallup Polls*, conducted between March 26 and April 18. Overall, the results, based on registered voters, show Bush with 48% of the vote and Kerry with 46%. (This analysis concentrates on the two-way race between Bush and Kerry, though Gallup also asks voters for their preferences among Bush, Kerry, and independent candidate Ralph Nader.)


Among registered voters, Bush leads Kerry by 11 percentage points among men (53% to 42%), while Kerry leads Bush by seven points among women (51% to 44%). This current gender gap is similar to what Gallup has observed in the past few elections. For example, in 2000, in the final pre-election poll, Bush led among men, 52% to 45%, while Gore led among women, 53% to 45%. In 1996, women favored Bill Clinton 54% to 39%, while men favored him over Republican Bob Dole by just one point, 45% to 44%. Prior to 1996, the gender gaps tended to be smaller, though the male vote has been more Republican than the female vote in each election since 1980, according to Gallup final pre-election polls.


Among whites, Bush leads 54% to 40%, while among blacks, Kerry has a decisive 83% to 11% edge. Republican candidates have hovered around 10% of the black vote in recent presidential elections, though Bush's 9% share of the black vote in 2000 was the worst a Republican candidate has had since Barry Goldwater in 1964.


The Bush team was hoping the recent changes to Medicare would help his political standing among older voters. The Democratic candidate has won the vote among older Americans in the last three elections. Currently, the two candidates are closely matched among those 65 and older, with Bush at 47% to Kerry's 45%. Bush has a slightly larger 50% to 45% edge among both 30- to 49-year-olds and 50- to 64-year-olds. Among young voters, those aged 18 to 29, Kerry has a sizable 54% to 42% lead.

Education and Income

Support by education shows a curvilinear relationship. Kerry does best among those with the least (a high school education or less) and most (postgraduate) formal education. He leads among the former group 48% to 45%, and among the latter by 52% to 45%. Bush leads among those with some college (50% to 44%) and college graduates with no postgraduate education (53% to 42%).

The relationship of income to vote, on the other hand, is a straight linear relationship, with support for Bush rising as household income increases. One key swing group may be households with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000. That appears to be the point at which preference shifts from Kerry to Bush, and that group is currently evenly divided in its vote choice.


Both candidates are maintaining the support of about 9 in 10 members of their own political parties. Ninety-one percent of Republican registered voters say they are voting for Bush, while 86% of Democratic registered voters are voting for Kerry. Among independents, Kerry leads, 50% to 41%.

There is not quite as strong a relationship between ideology and vote as there is between party and vote. Bush leads among conservatives, 72% to 24%, while Kerry has an even larger lead among liberals, 81% to 14%. However, in the United States, roughly two people identify as conservatives for every one who identifies as liberal. Kerry also leads among moderates, 54% to 39%.


Religious commitment is becoming an increasingly important correlate of one's political opinions. Fifty-two percent of those who attend church weekly support Bush, compared with 41% support for Kerry. Among those who attend church on a semi-regular basis, Bush leads but by a smaller 50% to 46% margin. Kerry has a commanding lead among registered voters who seldom or never attend church, 54% to 38%.

It should be noted this relationship only exists for nonblacks. Blacks overwhelmingly support Kerry, and churchgoing blacks are no more or less likely to do so than nonchurchgoing blacks.


In recent years, a marriage gap has emerged in politics. That appears to be the case in the 2004 election as well. Married voters favor Bush 53% to 40%, while unmarried voters favor Kerry by 57% to 37%. This 33-point swing is even larger than the gender gap.

Although the data are limited, they suggest married men are especially likely to support Bush, and unmarried women are especially likely to support Kerry. In the 2000 election, unmarried women supported Gore over Bush by a 2-to-1 margin.

Red and Blue States

The 2004 electoral vote map could wind up looking similar to the 2000 map. In states where Bush won the popular vote in 2000, he currently leads Kerry by a 54% to 40% margin among registered voters. Meanwhile, Kerry leads Bush by a nearly identical 54% to 41% margin in states Gore won in 2000.

Looking a little more closely at the states according to the 2000 results, Bush leads Kerry 56% to 39% in states he won by more than five percentage points in 2000. Kerry currently enjoys a larger lead in states Gore won by more than five percentage points, 57% to 38%. In states that were more closely contested -- where the winning candidate prevailed by five percentage points or less -- Bush leads, 49% to 46%.

Kerry leads in the eastern part of the country, 53% to 42%, while Bush has a sizable lead in southern states, 55% to 40%. The two are essentially tied in the Midwest (Bush, 48% to 47%) and Kerry has a slight lead in the West (50% to 45%).

In urban areas, 56% of registered voters support Kerry, compared with 38% for Bush. Bush has the edge in rural (55% to 40%) and suburban (51% to 44%) areas.

Bottom Line

It's quite possible that the 2004 election will be a near-replay of the 2000 election in many respects. Traditional group voting patterns look as if they will continue, and the breakdown in electoral votes could also be similar. This happened the last time an incumbent sought re-election. In 1996, when Clinton was re-elected, only five states (Georgia, Florida, Montana, Arizona, and Colorado) shifted their electoral votes from one party to the other. The net result was a shift of just nine electoral votes from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party (Clinton won 370 in 1992 and 379 in 1996).

*Results are based on interviews with 2,663 registered voters from randomly selected national samples of adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 26-28, April 5-8, and April 16-18, 2004. For data on the entire sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error attributable to sampling is ±2 percentage points. The margins of errors for subgroups will be higher (as high as 8 percentage points).


Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030