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As leader, Bush found wanting and inevitable, poll concludes


WASHINGTON -- Though President Bush's job ratings have crashed to an all-time low, most Americans still think he'll be re-elected this fall, a new Times Mirror poll has found.

Only 39 percent of those questioned approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling his job, the first time in the Bush presidency that the figure has dropped below 40 percent in the poll by Times Mirror, which publishes The Baltimore Sun.

The nationwide survey, conducted Feb. 20-23, also found that Mr. Bush would lose to an unnamed Democratic opponent by 49 percent to 39 percent. In January, voters also preferred the Democrat, but by a smaller margin: 45 percent to 41 percent.

However, when asked who they thought would win, 65 percent -- including a majority of Democrats -- indicated Mr. Bush.

One reason may be the relatively low opinion that most Americans still have of the Democratic contenders as a group. Six of 10 gave the Democratic candidates a fair or poor rating, while barely one-third found them either good or excellent.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was the first choice of Democratic voters surveyed. But in the wake of allegations about marital infidelity and draft dodging, negative opinions about him have increased significantly.

Former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts, benefiting from his victory in the New Hampshire primary, climbed from 6 percent last month to 27 percent in the latest poll, putting him in second place, 5 points behind Mr. Clinton.

On the Republican side, Mr. Bush held a 77-18 percent lead over Patrick J. Buchanan. However, the GOP challenger's favorable rating increased to 56 percent in the latest poll, from 33 percent last month.

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