A poll by Newsweek magazine on Saturday indicates that Kerry – bolstered by his strong showing in the first of three presidential debates earlier this week - is now leading over President George Bush by 49 to 46 percentage points in a two-way race.

The margin of Kerry's lead narrows down to 47-45 percentage points when independent candidate Ralph Nader is factored in.

A month earlier, and immediately after the Republican convention held in New York City, Bush enjoyed an 11-point lead over Kerry, pulling 52% and his challenger just 41%.

Turnaround

But the latest poll pointed to a remarkable turnaround, seemingly brought about by the debate the two presidential candidates had on foreign policy and security which Newsweek said Kerry had clearly won.

Kerry outsmarted Bush in the
debate earlier this week

Its poll indicated that 61% of those who watched the showdown thought Kerry came off better in the debate and only 19% felt Bush had won.

Detailing the poll results, Newsweek's official website said 62% of those who watched the debate felt Kerry came across as more confident than the president.

Fifty-six per cent also saw Kerry as having a better command of the facts than Bush.

Kerry, previously characterised as aloof and stiff, also came across as more personally likeable than Bush by 47 to 41 percentage points.

In fact, Kerry's numbers have improved across the board, while Bush's vulnerabilities have become more pronounced, said Newsweek. Eighty per cent of those surveyed felt Kerry was more intelligent and well-informed compared to Bush's 59%.

The poll also indicated that the president's approval ratings declined to 46% - the first time it has dropped below the half-way mark since the Republicans had their convention in late August.