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This paper presents a proof that existence of a polynomial Lyapunov function is necessary and sufficient for exponential stability of a sufficiently smooth nonlinear vector field on a bounded set. The main result states that if there exists an n -times continuously differentiable Lyapunov function which proves exponential stability on a bounded subset of Rn, then there exists a polynomial Lyapunov function which proves exponential stability on the same region. Such a continuous Lyapunov function will exist if, for example, the vector field is at least n-times continuously differentiable. The proof is based on a generalization of the Weierstrass approximation theorem to differentiable functions in several variables. Specifically, polynomials can be used to approximate a differentiable function, using the Sobolev norm W 1,infin to any desired accuracy. This approximation result is combined with the second-order Taylor series expansion to show that polynomial Lyapunov functions can approximate continuous Lyapunov functions arbitrarily well on bounded sets. The investigation is motivated by the use of polynomial optimization algorithms to construct polynomial Lyapunov functions.