Bush Improves Slightly, but Still Behind in Polls Many Voters Use Surveys to Signal Discontent with Nation's Direction

Article excerpt

SINCE the Republican convention, opinion polls have been showing widely varied snapshots of the presidential race, in part because voter attitudes toward candidates George Bush and Bill Clinton are still lightly held, highly ambivalent, and quick to shift.

But opinion analysts - including those in both campaigns - agree nearly unanimously that Mr. Clinton leads Mr. Bush nationwide this week by about 10 percentage points.

That spread amounts to about an 8-point improvement for Bush over polls taken before the Republican convention.

It represents a routine convention bounce for an incumbent president, "about what was expected, no better and no worse," says Republican pollster Vince Breglio.

The bounce keeps Bush competitive with Clinton at a time when voters have probably not yet focused seriously on their election choices.

"A lot of people are still shopping," says Everett Carll Ladd, director of the Roper Center, which compiles and analyzes survey data.

Polling data, however, have picked up some problems for Bush. Ed Goeas, president of the Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, notes that Bush gained on Clinton during the Republican convention, but that early this week the president's momentum stopped, and he slipped backward a bit.

The Tarrance Group polled voters nightly last week in a joint effort with a Democratic firm, Greenberg-Lake. They found that the one region that did not move toward Bush during the convention was the Midwest: It actually shifted away from the president.

Mr. Goeas says that, in spite of Bush's overall gains, the poll results in the Midwest are bad news for the president. He reads it as a negative response to Bush's economic message from a region that most seeks one. The Midwest, after all, went through the recession first, and long-term consumer attitudes there remain very negative.

Sam Popkin, a political scientist working for the Clinton campaign, agrees.

"Bush's bounce ended when he started his speech," he says, claiming that the Bush campaign is "coming apart at the seams right now in ways that I don't even understand."

A Greenberg-Lake/Tarrance Group survey taken Tuesday night during the convention showed the gap between Bush and Clinton had closed to only 6 percentage points. …