Moscow — Most Soviets expect George Bush to be the next United States president. Most apparently like the idea. And the Soviet establishment, both official and unofficial, is rooting for the Republicans.
For Soviet foreign-policy makers, Vice-President Bush promises continuity with the Reagan administration's approach to Moscow.
Many radical reformers here, for very different reasons, also turn out to be fervent Republicans. And members of both groups say that they view the Democrats as unpredictable partners in world affairs.
Soviet foreign specialists came away from the Moscow summit last spring convinced that they could work with the Republicans. The road to the summit had been long and hard. They say they do not want to start over again.
``It took us a long time just to work out what Reagan's foreign policy was,'' one specialist said recently.
Less than three years ago, Soviet foreign-policy analysts were saying that they had given up on the Reagan administration. At that time Alexander Bovin, one of Moscow's sharpest-tongued commentators, remarked that d'etente required intellect - something, he said, the Reagan administration sorely lacked.
Mr. Bush has already offered Moscow some hope of a reasonably smooth foreign-policy transition. As early as this year's Republican primaries, Soviet journalists were describing him as the most dovish of the GOP contenders. His statement last week that he would call for an early summit with Mikhail Gorbachev gave Moscow immense satisfaction. Soviet leaders were quick to react positively to the idea.
US Democrats suffer here from the image of being unreliable partners in foreign policy. It's harder to negotiate treaties with them, Soviet observers say, and they are more likely to feel the need to prove their anticommunist credentials.
Michael Dukakis's shift on defense policy was seen by a number of Soviet observers as a typical example of what they regard as the Democrats' fickleness.
Writing five days ago in the daily Socialist Industry, Maxim Knyazkov summed up the disenchantment on this issue.
At the start of the electoral campaign, he remarked, Mr. Dukakis offered an ``interesting alternative'' to the Republican defense policy. He was critical of ``star wars,'' called for deep cuts in strategic nuclear forces and defense, and was favorably inclined to a nuclear test ban.
``Halfway through the campaign Dukakis began to drift rightward,'' Mr. Knyazkov says. He obviously wanted to broaden his political base. Instead, Knyazkov commented, ``I fear that the governor has been caught between two stools: Conservatives don't accept him as theirs, and liberals have turned away from him.''
Many Soviet radicals also seem to be backing the Republicans - but for ideological rather than pragmatic reasons.
They tend to view the campaign through the lens of their own reformist concerns. Republicans stand for less state intervention in the economy. So do reformers here.
Reformers also like the idea of a political system where no one party has a monopoly over both executive and legislative branches. This is what they would ideally like to see happen in the Soviet Union.
It's perhaps not surprising then that Bush has received a generally good press here. He was, for example, the subject of a largely positive profile published in the latest issue of the influential weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta.
The paper commented that Bush had a ``solid r'esum'e'' of life in public office. This, it added, created the impression that the Republican candidate was both competent and well prepared for the leadership.
In fact, it continued, ``Bush was involved in the most important political decisions made in the sphere of US foreign and domestic policy during the 1970s and '80s - developing relations with China, and in other major foreign and domestic policy initiatives of the Reagan administration.''
(Bush is not the first Western leader to be given such generous coverage by Literaturnaya Gazeta recently. On the eve of his visit to Moscow last month, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was treated to an even more flattering portrait.)
But it was Socialist Industry's Knyazkov who offered the most elegant and evenhanded view of the last days of the campaign.
He recalled past campaigns where Democratic challengers made dramatic last-minute surges. Harry Truman won, Hubert Humphrey almost beat Richard Nixon. Despite its last-minute recovery, he commented, the final stage of the Dukakis campaign does not bring to mind a ``well-thought-out counteroffensive.'' Instead, it seems more like someone ``frantically chasing a hat that has been blown away by the wind.''
The fact is, Knyazkov told his readers, the average American is living better now than he was in 1981. Inflation and unemployment are down, more jobs have been created, and real income is up. And he quoted the Associated Press and Fortune magazine to prove it.