PRINCETON, N.J. -- In the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary, President Bush's standing among the U.S. public has slipped further.
The latest Gallup Poll shows that Mr. Bush's approval rating has declined to 39 percent, his all-time low. The percentage of voters who feel Mr. Bush deserves to be re-elected has fallen to 42 percent, after hovering around the 50 percent mark earlier in the year.
The New Hampshire results dramatized the extent to which the recession has hurt Mr. Bush politically. Conservative political commentator Patrick J. Buchanan captured 37 percent of the GOP vote, largely by capitalizing on the economic distress New Hampshirites are feeling. As long as the recession continues, and especially in the parts of the country that have been most severely hurt, there apparently will be an anti-Bush vote for either a Democratic or a Republican challenger to exploit.
At present, neither Mr. Buchanan nor the two leading Democratic presidential hopefuls -- Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas -- have enough stature to take full advantage of Mr. Bush's vulnerability.
Support for Mr. Buchanan as the GOP's 1992 presidential nominee has doubled since the New Hampshire primary, but the challenger still trails the president by 80 percent to 20 percent. Mr. Bush defeats both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Tsongas in test elections for the fall: His margin against Mr. Clinton is 53 percent to 43 percent; matched against Mr. Tsongas, Mr. Bush wins 54 percent to 39 percent.
Nationally, there is no evidence that Mr. Buchanan has captured the hearts of like-minded GOP voters. Conservatives within the party are no more likely to back Mr. Buchanan's candidacy (18 percent) than are moderates (21 percent). On the other hand, his staunchly conservative views may limit his appeal among the broader electorate: A third of voters say they are unlikely to support Mr. Buchanan because his views are too extreme.
Among Democrats, Mr. Tsongas, the New Hampshire Democratic primary winner, and Mr. Clinton, the runner-up, seem to be in a two-man race for the nomination. Mr. Clinton remains the front-runner nationally, winning 41 percent support among registered Democrats and Democratic leaners. Mr. Clinton's Democratic support has held despite allegations of adultery and draft-dodging the past month. A poll completed earlier this month showed Mr. Clinton's support at 42 percent.
While Mr. Clinton remains on top, Mr. Tsongas is close behind with 31 percent. His victory has provided a boost in support among Democratic voters nationally. He has gained 22 percentage points since the last poll.