AN attempt to assess Republican strength is perilous between the conventions. How much of Bill Clinton's lead in the polls comes from post-convention "bounce" and how much is conviction? Broader patterns of party support offer more hope of understanding the partisan setting of the coming campaign.
During the past decade, in response to a question asked by ABC News/Washington Post, the public has frequently changed its mind about which party is better able to cope with the problems the nation faces in the near future. During the 1982-83 recession, the Democrats led; in the years of "Morning in America," the Republicans came out on top by as much as 16 points. Opinion has responded to a variety of short-term events, like the 1988 Democratic convention (a 15-point Democratic lead) and the end of the Gulf war (a 13-point Republican advantage). The Democrats have led in all four ABC/Post soundings this year.
When asked by Gallup which party will do a better job of keeping the country prosperous, the public has been split almost evenly over the past nine months.The biggest differences of opinion occur (predictably) between income groups. In a pattern repeated in recent years, Republicans draw more support from men and younger adults.
The make-up of the two parties differs most alon g racial and economic lines. Ninety-four percent of Republicans are white, only 2 percent black. Nearly one third of Republican partisans come from households with an income of $50,000 or more, compared to only 19 percent of Democrats.