WASHINGTON — Americans worry that renewed violence in the oil-rich Middle East could slow the red-hot US economy. But the threat of a Mideast war - so far - has not dramatically affected voter preferences in the presidential race.
The latest Christian Science Monitor/ TIPP poll of 800 likely voters found a sizable minority, 40 percent, are concerned that Mideast tensions could eventually cripple the economy in the United States.
The poll, one of the first to sample American opinion following the presumed attack on the USS Cole, also found that Republican George W. Bush improved his standing as a leader on foreign-policy issues after the last presidential debate.
While many Americans worry about the economic impact of Mideast troubles, only 8 percent of voters say the outbreak of war there could change their vote in the US presidential race.
The Monitor/TIPP poll, conducted Oct. 13 to 15, also found a small shift in the tight contest between Vice President Al Gore and Governor Bush of Texas. Among the poll's results:
* Bush moved into a slight lead, 44 percent to 42 percent, over Mr. Gore. A week ago, Bush had trailed the vice president by 43 percent to 42 percent. In both cases, the lead was within the survey's margin of error.
* Bush won the second presidential debate by 39 percent to 22 percent, according to those surveyed.
* Gore maintains his support from women (47 percent to 39 percent over Bush), but the governor outdistances Gore with men (50 percent to 35 percent).
* Third-party candidates get a small but potentially important slice of the vote, particularly in the West and Northeast. Overall, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader gets 3 percent, while Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party and Harry Browne of the Libertarian Party get 1 percent each nationwide.
When voters were asked about Mideast violence, they expressed frustration. Ronald Marx, a Bush supporter from Colorado Springs, Colo., says:
"I think it's clear neither Bush nor Gore have the credentials to form peace in the Middle East.... They both like to govern and develop policy based on public opinion, but leaders in the Middle East don't operate that way. People there are extremists and are willing to die for a cause."
Asked whom they would prefer in the White House if the US got directly involved in a Middle East war, voters gave Bush the nod, 48 percent to 42 percent for Gore.
Bush came out on top because 8 percent of Gore's supporters say they would rather have Bush in the White House if war broke out. Only 2 percent of Bush backers say they would prefer Gore in case of war.
Raghavan Mayur, president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, conducted the poll for the Monitor. He says: "Though Mr. Bush didn't gain many voters due to the second debate, more see him in a positive light, as clearly ready to rise to the occasion in foreign affairs."
A related view comes from Ada Allen, a Bush supporter in Ohio.
"No one has been successful with peace in the Middle East so far, so I think Bush coming in fresh might be a lot better," she says.
Still, some Gore supporters like Sheryl Simmons of Marysville, Calif., are more skeptical about Bush. "I don't think Bush has a background in foreign policy and his answer is he'd get experts," she says. "Well, he still needs to make a decision after hearing from experts."
As the US moves closer to Election Day, other warning signs exist for the Gore campaign. The level of enthusiasm for Bush is higher among his supporters - with 70 percent saying they back him "strongly." Gore's level of strong support has been stuck at 60 percent for weeks - something that could reduce voter turnout for the Democratic ticket.
Mr. Mayur says: "Though Bush and Gore are at a virtual tie, the intensity of support for Mr. Bush over Mr. Gore gives him an edge on Election Day."
Gore also faces a challenge with liberals who are being attracted to the Nader campaign in the West and Northeast. Nader could tip states like Washington and Oregon toward the GOP ticket.
Staff writer Sara Steindorf contributed to this report.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society