WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles riots have sharply reduced support for President Bush, according to a new nationwide poll that shows him drawing only 33 percent of the vote in a three-man trial run, locked in a virtual dead heat with Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Texas billionaire Ross Perot.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Perot each drew 30 percent of the vote in the Times Mirror poll, which was released yesterday. The survey of 1,301 respondents, conducted Wednesday -- the day the riots erupted -- through Sunday, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Only two weeks ago a U.S. News & World Report poll gave Mr. Bush significant leads over both Mr. Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Mr. Perot, who now is widely expected to run as an independent candidate. That poll gave Mr. Bush 40 percent, Mr. Clinton, 29 percent, and Mr. Perot, 24 percent.
The Times Mirror poll also showed a statistical dead heat in a two-man race with Mr. Bush drawing 46 percent to Mr. Clinton's 43 percent.
Mr. Bush dropped seven points from two weeks earlier while Mr. Clinton remained steady. Only about a third of the president's supporters said that they "strongly" backed him while only about a fourth of Mr. Clinton's said that they strongly supported him.
The poll, which found that the public followed the riots and the verdict in the Rodney King case more closely than they did the Persian Gulf war, generally was bad news for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign. It reflected both the president's deteriorating public image and Mr. Perot's widening constituency and found the two rivals running virtually even among groups that typically support a Republican candidate.
Only two-thirds of the Republicans supported Mr. Bush. Among independents, Mr. Perot led him, 37 percent to 31 percent.
Mr. Bush's unfavorable rating also increased from the earlier period -- from 36 percent to 42 percent -- and only a quarter of the respondents viewed him as the best candidate to deal with the country's racial problems. Thirty-one percent named Mr. Clinton and 13 percent named Mr. Perot.
Only a third of the voters said that they thought there was a chance conditions in the country would "get better" if Mr. Bush were re-elected. Slightly more than half said that there was "no chance" conditions would improve.
For Mr. Clinton, the results were generally positive, although Mr. Perot also draws substantial support away from him and he still faces deep problems within the Democratic Party.
A plurality of 41 percent of the respondents viewed Mr. Clinton as best able to deal with problems of the poor. Only 15 percent named Mr. Bush and 22 percent named Mr. Perot. Sixty-one percent said that the next president should give higher priority to problems of poor people than problems of middle-income people.
By a much smaller margin Clinton also was viewed as the candidate who could best deal with problems of the middle class.
News of the Los Angeles riots was being followed "very closely" by 7 of 10 of the respondents and another 22 percent were following it fairly closely, a level of public attentiveness rarely matched in Times Mirror polls, exceeding public attention to the gulf war.
Forty-three percent of those who followed the verdict in the King case closely said that they thought the jury that returned the not guilty verdicts on the four white officers who beat him was prejudiced against him.
Only 15 percent of those respondents said that they thought the jury rendered its verdict because it believed the officers were acting within the law.
The respondents held fairly strong views on social issues that Mr. Clinton has emphasized in his campaign. Eight of 10 agreed with the statement: "It's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." And nine of 10 agreed that "our society should do what is necessary to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed."
Mr. Clinton's unfavorable rating remained high, 43 percent, however, and he drew support from only 56 percent of Democrats. Twenty-eight per cent of them said that they would vote for Mr. Perot if he is on the ballot. Among independents Mr. Perot led Mr. Clinton, 37 percent to 23 percent.
Given the choice, 41 percent of the respondents said that they would like to see the Democrats nominate Mr. Clinton, 11 percent said former California Gov. Jerry Brown, and 40 percent said "some other candidate."