Support for Clinton drops in 2 months, poll shows


WASHINGTON -- While President Clinton has been wrestling with other issues and fending off attacks by Republicans and Ross Perot, public support for his long-range economic package has dropped dramatically.

A poll released yesterday shows support dwindling in the past two months, from 58 percent favoring the president's plan for economic revitalization and 27 percent opposed to only 46 percent supporting the plan and 36 percent against it now. Americans' optimism that the program would help them in the long run has also fallen sharply, from 50 percent hopeful and 32 percent skeptical to an almost-even split between optimists and pessimists -- 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Mr. Clinton's long-term economic plan calls for almost $500 billion in deficit reduction, including net tax increases of $242 billion over the next five years.

In one encouraging finding for Mr. Clinton, voters will blame Republicans, who already have killed his short-term economic stimulus package through a Senate filibuster, if Congress fails to pass the long-range program. Asked whom they would hold most responsible, 48 percent said Republicans in Congress, 18 percent said the Clinton administration and 14 percent said Democrats in Congress.

But for the most part, the survey -- which pegs Mr. Clinton's job approval rating at 45 percent, a drop of 11 percentage points in two months -- is bad news for an already beleaguered president. It reflects a decline in optimism about his economic plan among all groups, with an especially sharp drop among Democrats and Clinton voters.

The president's declining popular support will, among other things, increase the pressure on him to delay the unveiling of his costly, complex and controversial health care reform program, now in the final drafting stages.

The Times Mirror poll results are based on telephone interviews of a nationwide sample of 1,009 adults, 18 or older, from April 29 to May 2. Based on the total sample, it can be said with 95 percent confidence that it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll shows Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, benefiting from leading the opposition to Mr. Clinton's programs and registering a ratio of approval-to-disapproval of his job performance about the same as that of the president, who got a 45 percent to 37 percent evaluation. Mr. Dole's rating was 37 percent approval and 24 percent disapproval.

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