WASHINGTON -- President Bush, continuing a steep slide from the heights in public opinion polls, would find himself in a dead heat running for re-election today against an unnamed Democratic candidate, according to a new nationwide poll released yesterday.
The new poll results reflect a significant erosion of Mr. Bush's standing among voters, apparently as a result of growing concern over his handling of the nation's troubled economy. When matched up against specific Democrats, however, he still wins handily.
The survey, conducted by the Times Mirror Center for People and the Press, tested Mr. Bush against "the Democratic candidate" -- whoever it turns out to be -- and against specific Democrats who might win the nomination. The poll showed 43 percent of the respondents favoring "the Democratic candidate" while 41 percent voiced support for Mr. Bush.
In the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf war earlier this year, he was favored to win over "the Democratic candidate" by a whopping 50 percentage points. As recently as a month ago, a Times Mirror poll found Bush favored for re-election against the opposition standard-bearer by 55 percent to 37 percent.
The new findings detailed increasing concern about domestic issues, especially unemployment and other economic problems. And they showed that voters give exceptionally low priority to foreign affairs issues that have dominated the agenda of the Bush presidency.
Only 34 percent of those polled said they were "satisfied with the way things are going" in the country today, the lowest "state of the nation" reading since Times Mirror began recording it in 1986.
Mr. Bush would still be heavily favored today when pitted in trial heats against the lesser-known Democratic candidates. In fact, he would be heavily favored -- 58 percent to 37 percent -- over New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, the nominee preferred by many Democrats.