WASHINGTON -- In perhaps the greatest shifting of sands in American campaign history, as much as half of the electorate has changed its allegiance to a presidential candidate in recent weeks, a new survey reports.
Since early June, Democrat Bill Clinton has picked up the support of one in three voters, the result of the campaign departure of maverick Ross Perot -- most of whose supporters have turned to the Clinton camp -- and the vastly improved
personal image of the Arkansas governor, says a poll by the Times Mirror Center For The People & The Press.
But the survey indicates that the commitment of these recent Clinton converts to the Democratic ticket is so tenuous that they could flee just as quickly and easily, a sign of the extreme volatility of the electorate and the precarious, mercurial nature of this election year.
The poll, in which 1,023 registered voters from a nationwide survey taken in late May and early June were re-interviewed, found the Clinton-Gore ticket leading the Bush-Quayle team, 57 percent to 36 percent.
In the three-way race of the late spring, 31 percent to the voters supported President Bush and 27 percent backed Mr. Clinton; both of them trailed Mr. Perot, who pulled in 36 percent.
While a small percentage of former Perot supporters -- less than 10 percent -- have migrated to the Bush corner, those gains have been offset by the defection of some of the president's earlier backers to Mr. Clinton, according to the poll by Times Mirror, which publishes The Sun and other newspapers.
A huge majority of those new to the Clinton camp -- 71 percent -- say they are only "weak" supporters of the current front-runner. More than half say their intended vote is more a vote against the president than a vote for Mr. Clinton.
Not surprisingly, the Clinton converts echo the profile of earlier Perot supporters, crossing every demographic and socioeconomic line but sharing a disaffection for the status quo. But the Democrat's greatest gains are among political independents and middle- and upper-income people.
They attribute their change of heart about the once-unpopular Mr. Clinton to learning more about what he stands for, his increased media exposure, his convention speech and his selection of Tennessee Sen. Al Gore as running mate.
But while as many as 88 percent of these new Clinton fans say they have a favorable view of him -- compared with 43 percent of them who rated him negatively in June -- only one in five say they know a lot about what he stands for, again indicating the flimsy nature of this bloc of support.
On the other hand, 46 percent of all voters re-interviewed say they know a lot about what the president stands for. But this greater familiarity doesn't necessarily translate into greater appeal. When asked what Mr. Bush stands for, the answer given most often was "the rich/upper class/money."
In a final survey point, voters appeared more likely to pull the Bush lever if Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were to replace Vice President Dan Quayle on the Republican ticket. In a hypothetical Clinton-Gore and Bush-Powell matchup, the Democrats led 55 percent to the GOP's 41 percent.