Washington — For the first time since President Reagan took office, there is a pause -- and perhaps something more permanent -- in his momentum. A recent Gallup poll and new assessments from knowledgeable political observers show that the President's popularity has taken a decided dip, bringing it to below that of previous presidents at a similar point.
Could this be the beginning of the end of the Reagan honeymoon? Members of Congress and of the press are starting to wonder.
Furthermore, does this signal that the President may have tough sledding ahead for his spending cuts and tax reduction proposals -- even more than he has encountered thus far?
Gallup now shows Mr. Reagan with a 59 percent approval rating, down 9 percent from his May standing. Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon were at 63 percent, John Kennedy at 71, and Dwight Eisenhower at 74 at this early juncture in their administrations.
In explaining this drop it should be noted that Reagan was riding an artificial high in the wake of the assassination attempt, drawing some two-thirds of the public behind him.
But the intensity of a 9 percent decline indicates Mr. Reagan's social security plan together with proposals to cut deeply into social programs are both broadening and deepening the opposition.
Politicians here and around the United States are also reporting what Gallup finds -- that there is a growing tide of feeling being expressed against the President. Gallup shows a rise in the President's disapproval rating from 21 percent in May to 28 percent in this month's poll. This figure, notes Gallup, is higher than that recorded for any other president at this point in his administration.
Observers are not ready yet to call this slide a permanent trend in Reagan's standing with the public. They note that among most Americans today, including those who did not vote for him and who don't like his programs, there is a tendency to express a personal fondness for their President.
Thus, it appears that Reagan's popularity rating, in the strictest sense, is still well above 59 percent.
Further, there is no evidence yet that this personal popularity is lessening significantly.
People generally were impressed by the President's grace and good humor while the hospital. And even as he pushes hard for programs which they don't like, many people across the US still indicate, in one way or another, that they like this man Reagan.
observers are also pointing out that President is deliberately risking popularity as he pushes for spending cuts that clearly aren't too palatable with many Americans.
Thus, they see this Reagan dip in the polls as inevitable but not necessarily lasting.
They suggest that should the President still be able to move his program forward, then he may well start picking up points for the way he is doing his job simply because Americans tend to applaud a president who gets things done -- even if they may not fully approve of what he is doing.
If Reagan looks "presidential" in the next few months, these observers say, he may well bounce back.
But the firmest judgment coming from Democratic and Republican politicians is that the President is off to a very good start. So if he still can plunge ahead , despite growing opposition in Congress and rising unpopularity, he can make it back, fairly quickly, to a good standing with the public.
And if the President's programs work -- if they, indeed, slow inflation and stimulate the economy -- then he will look good a year from now, and, probab ly, three years from now.