Boosted by growing support from independent voters, particularly men, Republican George W. Bush has moved solidly ahead of Democrat Al Gore for the first time this fall.
The latest Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential campaign shows Mr. Bush with a 47 percent to 41 percent margin over Mr. Gore.
The nationwide survey found Bush with substantial leads in both the South and the West. Gore and Bush were in statistical dead heats in the Northeast and the Midwest.
The surge by the Texas governor comes as many of the nation's undecided voters, primarily independents, finally began choosing sides in the waning days of the campaign.
The race is also increasingly marked by a huge gender gap. Bush now carries the male vote by 19 points (53 percent to 34 percent), while Gore leads among women voters by 48 percent to 41 percent. The combined difference of 26 points is the largest gender gap seen by the Monitor/TIPP poll in this race.
The latest survey of 739 likely voters, conducted Oct. 26 to 29, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Bush and his vice-presidential running mate, Dick Cheney of Wyoming, have built their current lead with a two-step process, the survey shows.
First, they solidified their Republican base. Since the first Monitor/TIPP poll on Oct. 8, the Bush-Cheney ticket had the steady support of about 90 percent of Republican voters.
Then, in recent weeks they have ratcheted up their following among independent voters by 13 points - from 31 percent in early October to 44 percent today.
Over the same period, Gore's strength among independents skidded from 42 percent to 33 percent.
The vice president remains highly popular with Democrats - he gets support from 84 percent of likely Democratic voters - and with blacks, among whom 3 of 4 say they are solidly in his camp. Gore also has a wide following among Hispanics (63 percent support) and among low-income voters (67 percent).
While Republicans have no hope of carrying key Gore constituencies, they have made progress by chipping away at some of them.
For example, more than half of all union households favor Gore in the Monitor/TIPP poll. But Bush has gradually boosted his following among union households from just 27 percent three weeks ago to 35 percent today.
Mean while, Bush has solidified his base among married voters. He has always been ahead with this group in the Monitor/TIPP poll, but in the latest survey, he moved out to a 54-to-35 lead - the largest margin yet.
The importance of the education issue shows up among families with children under 18 years old. This group - almost evenly divided three weeks ago - now favors Bush by 50 percent to 38 percent following weeks of debate about the future of America's schools.
Pollster Raghavan Mayur, president of TIPP, a unit of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, says large numbers of undecided voters are gravitating toward Bush. Joining them, he says, are a growing number of voters who said earlier that they might cast ballots for third-party candidates, such as the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan.
Mr. Mayur says that as prospects for some of these third-party candidates wane, voters are being drawn to the two major parties, where they think their votes might make a greater impact.
The primary exception may be the Green Party campaign of Ralph Nader, whose presence on the ballot, particularly in the West, could drain votes away from Gore and throw states such as Oregon or Washington into the Bush column.
Ironically, the intensity of support for Bush has been greater than for Gore through most of this presidential campaign - but that could now change. As new - but weak - supporters are added to his ranks, the degree of intensity drops for Bush in polls.
The warning in this for Bush is clear: These new supporters could move away as quickly as they arrived.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society