WASHINGTON -- In the first poll since Senator John F. Kerry locked up the Democratic nomination, Kerry and President Bush are tied while independent Ralph Nader has captured enough support to affect the outcome, validating Democrats' fears.
The Republican incumbent had the backing of 46 percent, Kerry 45 percent, and Nader, the 2000 Green Party candidate who entered the race last month, was at 6 percent in the survey conducted for the Associated Press by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
Bush and the four-term Massachusetts senator, who emerged as the nominee Tuesday after a string of primary race wins over several rivals, have been running close or Kerry has been ahead in most recent polls that did not include Nader.
Since Nader entered the race Feb. 22, campaign strategists and political analysts have been trying to assess the impact of another presidential bid by the consumer activist, whom some Democrats blame for Al Gore's loss in 2000.
Four years ago, Nader appeared on the ballot in 43 states and Washington, D.C., garnering only 2.7 percent of the vote. But in Florida and New Hampshire, Bush won such narrow victories that had Gore received the bulk of Nader's votes in those states, he would have won the electoral vote in addition to the general election.
Exit polls from 2000 show that about half of Nader's voters would have backed Gore in a two-way race. Nader dismisses the spoiler label.
While Nader's support in the AP-Ipsos poll was 6 percent, his backing in polls in 2000 fluctuated in the single digits -- often at about 4 percent, but sometimes higher. This year, Nader is unlikely to get the Green Party nod and faces a stiff challenge in getting his name on the ballot in 50 states.
Bush's job approval in the AP-Ipsos poll was 48 percent, with 49 percent disapproving, which is essentially the same as last month when 47 percent approved of the president's job performance.
His approval rating, which soared close to 90 percent after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and remained high for months, has dipped to the lowest levels of his presidency in recent weeks.
Six in 10 said the country is on the wrong track, up from last month, while slightly more than a third of those surveyed -- 35 percent -- said the country is headed in the right direction.
The poll was conducted Monday through Wednesday as Kerry captured nine of 10 Super Tuesday elections and claimed the nomination.
The AP-Ipsos poll of 771 registered voters had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.