Washington — President Reagan's personal popularity remains high. This judgement comes from political leaders around the nation as well as in Washington. It is backed up by national polls, the latest of which (Gallup) shows the President rated favorably by two out of three Americans.
The reagan approval rating, on the rise since late January, is, according to Gallup now at 68 percent. This is 2 percentage points above President Carter's at a similar point in his administration and 6 points above Richard Nixon's approval standing at a comparable time in his first term.
Mr. Reagan is gaining ground even among nonwhites, although his rating among this group still is the lower than previous presidents received at comparable periods. According to the Gallup poll, Reagan's approval rating by nonwhites rose from 22 percent in March to 31 percent today.
However, that nonwhite support is seen as extremely soft, based to a great extent on the spunky way he reacted to the attempt on his life.
Political observers tend to come together in their assessment of the President's high standing with the American people. It runs along these lines:
* Reagan was beginning to slip a bit in popularity just before the assassination attempt. The courage and grace he exhibited at that time clearly helped in turning public opinion in his favor.
* The presidential victory on the budget, where his persnal lobbying effort obviously turned the tide in the House in his direction, did much to bolster his image. Since then, in fact, people generally have been talking about his leadership ability -- what a strong force he is turning out to be.
* The presidential social security proposal, which stirred up much public opposition, did not signal any long-term damage to Reagan's popularity. Instead , with the President in effect withdrawing his plan (indicating willingness to negotiate the controversial elements) the public unhappiness with him has abated for the most part.
* Observers do see one "danger" sign in several national polls: They all show Reagan's disapproval rating quite high.
Gallup show current disapproval of the President at 21 percent. At a similar period in their terms, Carter's disapproval rating was 19, Nixon's 15, Kennedy's 9, and Eisenhower's 10.
Kennedy's approval standing at that time was 77, Eisenhower's 74 -- compared with Reagan's current 68.
Oservers see two sides to the relatively high public disapproval of Reagan: One is that because he is such an activist President he tends to stir up strong feelings among the electorate, both positive and negative -- much as did Franklin Roosevelt.The other is that such a high disapproval rating indicates Reagan's presidency could become devisive -- if, for example, it rose another 10 or 15 points and the feeling among those who disapproved deepened to alienation.