N.H. voters' gloom could hurt Bush


WASHINGTON -- George Bush could scarcely find a more demoralized place than recession-wracked New Hampshire to test his re-election campaign, a new poll confirms.

The state's voters feel worse about the way things are going in the nation and in their own lives than do other Americans, give Mr. Bush a lower job rating and think the political system needs more shaking up, according to the survey by the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press, a foundation financed by Times Mirror, which publishes The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers.

Four out of five New Hampshire voters think President Bush is not doing all he can to improve the economy, and almost half -- 46 percent -- label the current business slump a depression.

Despite the dismal political climate, Mr. Bush's main opponent, Patrick J. Buchanan, has yet to benefit significantly. And, thanks to the state's heavy Republican tilt, Mr. Bush is running no worse than even in the state with a hypothetical Democratic opponent, although 25 percent say they are not sure the president deserves re-election this fall.

According to the poll, conducted before Mr. Bush's visit last week, likely Republican voters in the Feb. 18 primary favor Mr. Bush over Mr. Buchanan, 66 percent to 20 percent.

However, a comparison between the Times Mirror survey and a statewide poll completed three days later shows an apparent drop in support for Mr. Bush.

Only 56 percent of likely GOP voters in the second poll, taken for the Boston Globe, favored Mr. Bush, a 10-point difference, most of which shows up in the "undecided" category. Though Mr. Buchanan did not gain in the second poll, it suggested that support might be shifting toward the challenger.

Wooing the uncommitted Republicans, and disaffected voters in particular, could be a problem for Mr. Buchanan, since many regard him with suspicion or outright dislike, the Times Mirror poll found.

Mr. Buchanan was rated unfavorably by 37 percent of Republicans, favorably by 50 percent.

By contrast, Mr. Bush received an overwhelming 80 percent favorable rating from the New Hampshire Republicans. The poll also showed that the state's voters are less likely than other Americans to blame the president for the recession.

Among Democrats, the poll results matched those in other recent surveys.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was the favorite of 27 percent of likely primary voters, followed by former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (20 percent), Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey (11 percent), former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. (10 percent) and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (4 percent). Twenty-six percent didn't know or refused to answer, and 1 percent favored someone else.

New Hampshire's jobless rate is not much higher than the national rate, but the abrupt end to the state's boom of the 1980s has had a dramatic effect on voters' attitudes.

New Hampshire residents are more likely than other Americans to see job creation as the most important task facing the next president, for example. More than half of New Hampshire voters -- 51 percent -- feel they are worse off financially than they were four years ago, compared with 41 percent nationally.

The Times Mirror poll of 1,016 registered voters, conducted Jan. 9-12, had an margin of error of 3 percentage points. A total of 375 likely Democratic and 495 likely Republican primary voters were interviewed by telephone, with an error margin of plus or minus 5 points in those smaller samples.

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