The Gallup poll organization did two different samplings of public opinion back in December with what seems like a surprising and even startling contrast in the results.
In one of these two polls they sampled the political strength of Ronald Reagan against that of the two most mentioned possible candidates for the Democratic party in 1983 - Sen. John Glenn of Ohio and former Vice-President Walter Mondale.
To my own surprise, and perhaps to that of a good many others, Mr. Reagan ran a poor second to either the senator or Mr. Mondale. The results showed the senator beating Mr. Reagan by 54 percent to 39 percent, far more than enough to win an election if it were being held now. And Mr. Mondale also ran ahead at 52 percent to 40 percent.
The poll showed President Reagan doing best in the Midwest. He scored 47 percent of those polled in that section against either the senator or the former vice-president. But he ran far behind in the East. In that section Glenn beat him by 66 percent to 30 percent and Mondale by 61 to 33. Both the Democrats ran well ahead of the President in the South and in the West.
Thus, insofar as the Gallup poll forecasts what might happen in 1984, it must follow that the President is in deep political trouble.
But now let us turn to the other sampling of public opinion by the same organization and during the same days - Dec. 10 to 13. The question this time read:
''What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire the most? Who is your second choice?''
Ronald Reagan was the winner. The two men who in theory could defeat him for the presidency if the election were to be held now did not even show up on the list of the first 10. Walter Mondale did appear among the also-rans behind the top 10. Senator Glenn did not even make the also-rans list. The top 10 were as follows: 1. Ronald Reagan 2. Pope John Paul II 3. Rev. Billy Graham 4. Jimmy Carter 5. Edward Kennedy 6. Lech Walesa 7. Menachem Begin 8. Henry Kissinger 9. Rev. Jesse Jackson 10. Gerald Ford
A year ago the same question had given the same answer for the top two. Ronald Reagan was first, the Pope second. The year before, in December of 1980, the Pope came first and Jimmy Carter second.
I find it surprising that any American politician would run that close to the Pope at the top of the list. I find it more surprising that Mr. Reagan ran ahead of the Pope both in 1981 and again in 1982. But most surprising of all to me is that at the very same time that Mr. Reagan is regarded as being even more admirable than the Pope - he runs behind either Glenn or Mondale when the question is, who would you vote for if the 1984 election were being held today?
Would it not be logical to expect that a man who tops the list as most admirable would run ahead in the presidential poll of an also-ran in that admirable category? But he ran behind Mr. Mondale and even a little more behind a man (Senator Glenn) who never even got mentioned on the most admirable list.
The only possible conclusion to be drawn from this nonlogical result in the two polls is that the American public looks at President Reagan through two entirely different lenses.
In one lens it sees a thoroughly likable person who does the ceremonial work of the presidency well and who always manages to come up smiling, no matter how sharp the question jabbed at him in the White House press conference, or how bad the economic indicators may be.
Through the other lens is the political figure who has, during his first two years in the White House, presided over frighteningly high rises in both unemployment and the public debt.
Up to now I have been assuming in my own political thinking that Mr. Reagan would still be almost unbeatable in an election even though his policies have grown massively unpopular. But the nonsuccess of the policies and the results of the test against Mondale and Glenn force me to revise my calculations.
Mr. Reagan remains a remarkably popular person, but if either Glenn, a comparative newcomer in US politics, or Mondale, who had a hard time building recognition when he was playing second fiddle to Jimmy Carter, could beat him easily today - then Republicans had best start looking around for a possible alternative to the President next time around.