GOP pollster foresees back-and-forth race

Recent polling by the White House and the Republican National Committee shows that in recent weeks Vice-President George Bush has significantly improved his standing among voters. On the other hand, polls by both parties disclose that a large number of voters, about 40 percent, have yet to make up their minds. This voter volatility, combined with other survey data, suggests that the election will go to the candidate who simply looks and ``feels'' the most presidential to the ``undecideds.''

``The candidate that blocks out, in a credible way, where America should go over the next four to eight years - and talks about ways we deal with the big problems that we and our children are faced with - will win in the fall,'' says Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin.

In a breakfast meeting yesterday, a smiling Mr. Wirthlin told reporters, ``There have been a few changes since New Orleans.''

Wirthlin sees three developments since the GOP convention that give the Bush campaign reason to celebrate:

The Republican constituency is now solidly behind the vice-president.

Bush is doing ``well enough'' at holding Reagan Democrats.

Voters identifying themselves as Democrats have declined from a 20-point margin in 1980 to only a 5-point margin today

Wirthlin's data show that since the convention, Bush's standing has improved among blue-collar voters by 26 points, among women by 15 points, among men by 24 points, and among independents by 27 points.

Overall, Bush got a 20-point bounce from the convention, an improvement Wirthlin calls historic. In the South, now the vice-president's strongest region, support for Bush jumped 28 points.

Wirthlin says Americans are feeling more optimistic than they did just a few weeks ago, a fact he attributes, at least in part, to the Republican convention, Ronald Reagan, and generally good news about the nation's economy. ``Americans view the future as optimistically as they have in 15 years,'' the pollster asserts.

Other trends cited in the recent poll:

Bush has now overtaken Dukakis on the question of who can best deal with a crisis.

Younger voters are the most pro-Bush and pro-GOP.

The 1988 election will be the most ideological in recent history.

Although Wirthlin gives the current advantage to George Bush, he says he expects to ``see this lead change, and change more than once, between now and November.''

``We only need to recall that in 1980 Jimmy Carter would have beaten Ronald Reagan by a six- or seven-point edge if it had been held 30 days [earlier] to remind us that there is a lot of campaigning yet to be done,'' he says.

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