FOUR years ago, Michael Dukakis began his nominating convention with an 8 percentage-point advantage over George Bush and ended it with a 17-point advantage.
So this year, in a three-way race, the Clinton-Gore ticket ought to pick up 5 or 6 percentage points from their convention, according to Democratic pollster Peter Hart and his partner Geoffrey Garin.
The pollsters discussed the convention and the campaign at a Monitor breakfast here Wednesday.
Mr. Hart set out three things the convention needed to accomplish for Bill Clinton:
* Voters need a better sense of Mr. Clinton than they have at this stage.
* They need to see that he has goals that are achievable and that he can marshal his party behind him.
* Beyond just adding a few points to his overall support, Mr. Clinton needs to reach a specific group of voters during this convention: Democrats who are not yet Clinton supporters.
Many of them are grouped in the Northeast, are family-oriented in their outlook and values, and hold moderate political views.
Hart figures this group at about 18 to 19 percent of the total electorate. Among them, about 2 out of 3 are now Ross Perot supporters.
This group's concerns about Clinton's character are different from other voters'. For many Americans, Mr. Garin said, the questions are more about his veracity than specific allegations of wrongdoing. But for a large share of Northeastern Roman Catholics and ethnic voters, the questions are about the immorality itself.
Further, Garin added, Clinton faces some regional culture gap: a reluctance to trust him as a Southerner.
Hart's and Garin's polling numbers now show all three major candidates with the support of essentially 30 percent of the electorate.
"This has the potentiality to be a major change election," Hart said. "The country wants to do something. They want to break the logjam."