Reagan's economic program: GOP gains in 1982 hang in the balance

The Reagan presidency appears to be losing a bit of its luster in the eyes of the electorate. This is the perception of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and around the country as well as of Republican leaders in all regions.

Further, a gnawing anxiety now can be found in the White House. Aides are at least willing to say that President Reagan's economic success story must begin to be written soon or GOP prospects for 1982 will be dimmed.

Mr. Reagan has been able to fend off critics by saying that his economic policies had yet to take effect. But now the first stages of his programs are in place; his people concede he stands open to criticsm if his initiatives do not soon provide the economic stimulus he has promised.

Republican worries, not yet major but surfacing for the first time since the 1980 elections, center on these elements:

* Evidence is growing that Reagan's cuts in government spending are beginning to cause large numbers of former supporters, particularly among senior citizens, to question his performance. GOP leaders say that those near or at retirement age see Reagan as the politician who, more than all others, is leading the way to legislation that threatens social security.

* High interest rates and the flagging economy appear to be cooling the interest of rank-and-file voters in Reagan and the GOP. Republican leaders say they are hearing from a number of independents and Democrats who voted for Reagan last fall, and these voters says they are ready to withdraw their support from the President. Recent polls show Reagan's performance ratings declining from 60s to about 56 percent.

* The President appears to be losing a little of his TV appeal. His last address to the nation won him considerable plaudits from listeners -- but not so much as in the past. Legislators also have noted that support and enthusiasm for Reagan has begun to trail off, based on the letters, wires, and phone calls they received after the President's last TV address and press conference.

* Pollsters still find the public likes Reagan. But some say its patience with him is beginning to wear a little thin. Lou Harris concludes that without an inflation rate in single digits by the fall of 1982, a decline in the prime rate to 10 or 11 percent, and unemployment at 6.5 percent, "the patience of the American people will be stretched to the breaking point." Daniel Yankelovich, of the polling firm Yankelovich, Skelly & White, agrees with this one-year time limit. Nevertheless, he argues that it represents more patience with Reagan's economic initiatives than the public has shown for the economic program of any president in recent times.

* Republicans are hearing some of the old criticisms of Reagan that were prevalent during the campaign: that the President is superficial and his programs reflect it. People are begining to tell GOP leaders that they believe Reagan doesn't have any better answersto economic problems than did his recent predecessors.

* Some people are seeing signs of indecision in Reagan. They fault him for demanding a big defense buildup and then delivering an "interim" and possibly tentative decisionto deploy the MX missile and the B-1 bomber.

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