The public opinion polls more or less agree that Ronald Reagan at the end of his first year in the White House enjoys less public approval than did his immediate predecessor, Mr. Carter, at the same stage of his presidency.
When the Time Magazine-Yankelovich poll asked ''are you better off than a year ago'' they got 59 percent ''no'' against 36 percent ''yes.''
But the way people feel at the end of a first presidential year when answering a question in a poll is a poor measure of how they will vote when November of the same year comes around, and a still poorer measure of what is going to happen in the next American presidential election in 1984.
There are other factors, one of which is that Republicans have been raisng all the money they want and can possibly use, whereas the Democrats are having trouble getting enough to pay running expenses. The ratio is nearly 10 to 1 in favor of the Republicans.
In other words, there are two sides to the story of the Reagan cuts in budget and taxes. On one side are the urban poor, mostly in the big cities of the northeast, who have seen their benefits and subsidies cut back. On the other side are the middle and upper classes everywhere who will have more spending money this year because of those tax cuts. Add that much industry is depressed in the northeast, but booming in much of the south and west. Add also that dairy , peanut and tobacco farmers continue to enjoy princely subsidies.
There are a lot of beneficiaries of the Reagan tax cuts. Those beneficiaries are grateful to the Republican party and the Republican leader who has improved their business profits and their take-home pay. They show their gratitude by contributing generously to the Republican party. The Democrats can raise little money from the poor and dispirited of the big city slums - many of whom fail to manage to get to the polls on an election day anyway. Mr. Reagan's well-heeled constituents have learned that it pays to vote Republican.
The central political fact about the American political scene at this milestone date is that the people who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 have received what they wanted and what he promised them. They have relief from taxes , relief from environmental rules and regulations, continuation of industrial and agricultural subsidies.
The highway lobby has not been cut back appreciably. Corporations can sell tax concessions to each other. Many are going to avoid taxes entirely this year. Defense contractors are particularly fortunate. Orders exceed capacity, which runs up the prices.
Thus the level of unemployment may be high by modern standards. It is nearly at 8 percent now and expected to go to 10 percent by the end of the year. But the managerial class is better off than before. It is not going to turn against Mr. Reagan because of unemployment. Many of its members are thankful that the decline in social services has tended to curb wage rises. Many an employer has been given a chance to cut surplus labor out of his operations. Labor bargaining power has shrunk.
The fact that unemployment is up does not prove that Reaganomics is a failure. It proves that Mr. Reagan has been taking care of his own constituency.
The unemployment figure will probably be down again by November's election day. It will be easy enough to relax the money supply during midsummer, just in time to produce maximum economic activity by election day. There will have been bankruptcies in the meantime, but another word for bankruptcies is ''squeezing the water out of the economy.'' The businesses and industries which survive will be the more efficient and modern, and employ fewer workers.
Does this mean that Mr. Reagan's policies are successful or unsuccessful? The answer has to be subjective. They are successful to those who voted for him to do what he has done. He is a disaster to the poor of the big cities. Blacks have seen many a gain washed away. The lower middle class sees pluses and minuses. Environmentalists and consumers are bitterly disappointed.
But Mr. Reagan has done what he promised to do. This is a conservative switch back from the direction of the New Deal and its successors down through the Nixon era. Business has been given a high priority over social welfare, ethnic equality, consumerism, cleaner air and water. The result is a vigorous Republican party with an overflowing campaign chest.