A total of 49% of people questioned said they preferred Bush, with just 18% favouring Kerry to win, the poll published on Wednesday said.

Seven per cent believed the two candidates were equally good for Israel, while 2% said they were equally bad for the Jewish state. The rest offered no opinion.

At the same time, 42% of those questioned believed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should avoid supporting Bush, while 33%thought he should openly back the incumbent.

Tel Aviv University carried out the poll, questioning a representative range of 577 adult Israelis. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5%.

The poll confirmed that a clear majority of Israelis, Jewish and Arab, continue to back Sharon's plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip - with 60% for, and 34% against.

The remainder expressed no opinion.