Washington — The recession lingers. The Republicans see real trouble ahead in the fall elections. But the President somehow is rising once again in public-opinion polls. Why?
Many political leaders across the United States say it's because Mr. Reagan's personal traits are so attractive that they help insulate him from criticism.
Reagan's personal appeal has, of course, been perceived earlier. But many observers felt it would take him through only the first year of office.
Now, at 18 months in office, with polls showing his approval ratings rising from the low 40s up to around 50 percent again, the sustaining power of Reagan's personal persuasiveness is becoming apparent.
This assessment today is coming from reluctant witnesses to the President's powers of personal persuasion - from Democratic leaders who wish it were otherwise. Maryland state Sen. Rosalie S. Abrams, that state's Democratic chairman, says:
''I think TV is keeping Mr. Reagan aloft. He has such a wonderful TV image of reasonableness and goodwill, of a president who is doing the best he can.
''So the American people blame Congress, they blame the last president, they blame the Federal Reserve Board, but they don't blame Mr. Reagan. They have wrapped him in a cocoon of goodwill.''
Richard Boyer, the Democratic chairman in New Hampshire, agrees. ''The American people have placed him in a cocoon of goodwill,'' he says. ''They are giving Reagan more time. They are being patient with him.''
Democratic national chairman Charles T. Manatt provides these words of praise for Mr. Reagan, although they are uttered very reluctantly:
''He is very formidable politically and will be as long as he is President. Reagan's personality is such that he is treated very gingerly. He is the boy next door. He is treated much more gingerly than someone else who would be in that job.''
The Monitor, in search of an explanation for Reagan's staying aloft in the face of problems he has not yet been able to solve, surveyed Democratic leaders in all geographical regions.
They all say that they, themselves, are not ''taken in'' by Reagan's appeal - but they all say that this is why he is able to keep high in public standing.
Some are a little more blunt about how they word it. Says Hazel Evans, vice-chairman of Florida's Democratic Party: ''What's keeping him up? Hot air. People are buying his hot air - that's all I can figure out. They buy what he is selling, even if the facts don't back him up. He's an actor - and a very convincing actor.''
Arizona's Democratic chairman, Samuel P. Goddard, Jr., calls it Reagan's ''celebrity mystique.''
The Democratic assessment of what many call the ''Reagan problem'' comes down to this:
* These leaders, both here and all around the US, are convinced the President's appeal will not rub off on the fall elections.
Karen Marchioro, Democratic chairwoman for the state of Washington, says ''Reagan's popularity is not going to transfer'' to GOP candidates in that state. Says Suellen Albrecht, Wisconsin national committeewoman: ''Reagan is not helping Republicans in this state.'' Mr. Manatt echoes these views, arguing he sees decisive Democratic gains in the autumn.
* The Democratic tactic, however, is not to attack the President. Again and again the Democratic leaders were putting it this way: ''It would be counterproductive for us to take on this popular President.''
Says Nevada's state chairman, Brent T. Adams: ''You can't attack him personally - he is such a likable person. But you can attack his program - and we are.''
Says Arizonan Samuel Goddard: ''You would be a fool to attack Reagan personally - but we are attacking everything he stands for. And we are getting a stronger reaction here to what Reagan is doing. People are beginning to get fed up.''
* The Democratic perception is that the President, because of his ability to communicate so well with the people, still is in command -and that his administration has not begun to erode as had Jimmy Carter's at this same stage in his administration.
But all the Democrats surveyed say they believe that at some point the Reagan charm will wear off.
Says Trabue Lewis, member of the Democratic National Committee in Tennessee:
''Reagan's a talk salesman. He's good at putting points over. Not with me, of course. But I think he has fooled a lot of people. But it can't last. Two years from now it will be an entirely different story.''
Says Robert Slagle, Texas state chairman: ''How much time does Reagan have? If things haven't turned around by the end of the summer, he's in trouble. Actually, he's already in trouble.''
Says Olivia Maynard, Democratic state chairwoman in Michigan: ''People are separating their dissatisfaction with Reagan policies and Reagan the man. They are not blaming Reagan the man. But I don't think this will continue. People in time will personalize their unhappiness, blaming Reagan.''
* There was a consensus that economic problems were deepening and that these would become the springboard to Democratic success this fall and down the road.
Edward Mezvinsky, Pennsylvania's Democratic chairman, says that ''in this state Reaganomics and Republicans are in trouble. We are third from the bottom in terms of employment, well over the 10-plus rate.''
Says Florida's Hazel Evans: ''Unemployment was not as bad here as in other states for a while - but it's beginning to hit us hard, too. We are in very good shape against the Republicans.''
But, more than anything else, there is a feeling of bafflement among Democratic leaders today - on how Reagan is able to stay up in the air, in the polls, in the face of very little in the way of visible support.
Mr. Mezvinsky says, ''It's his (Reagan's) personalization of the presidency.'' Mr. Slagle says:
''People just basically like him. It's like the Eisenhower syndrome. Everybody liked Ike. Also, Reagan has done a good job of selling the concept that he inherited a bad mess.''