WASHINGTON -- Public support for a third-party candidate in the 1996 presidential race has been rising steadily as President Clinton's approval rating continues to decline, according to a new poll released today.
The survey by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press found as many as 26 percent saying they would like to see an independent candidate elected president, compared with 35 percent favoring an unnamed Republican candidate and 32 percent favoring Mr. Clinton's re-election.
The nationwide poll of 1,476 respondents conducted last weekend, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, showed retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell rated highest among the possible independent candidates, with a 62 percent favorable rating and 17 percent unfavorable. But even General Powell's rating showed some slippage. The hero of the Persian Gulf war and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has not declared his intentions, had received a 67 percent favorable response in February.
The poll found Sen. Bill Bradley, a New Jersey Democrat who is mulling an independent candidacy, has "a positive public image" but is known to only about half the electorate.
Mr. Clinton's approval rating in the past two months slipped from 50 percent to 44 percent. The response to a Ross Perot candidacy, however, was only 40 percent favorable and 53 percent unfavorable -- demonstrating that his recent United We Stand, America political convention in Dallas had done little to help him.
"It's not just the president who is in trouble with the American public," according to Andrew Kohut, the survey director. "Every major political figure tested in the current survey has either TC very negative or increasingly unfavorable rating."
For example, the poll showed that the negative rating for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, has increased the most -- from 37 percent negative in February to 54 percent. These results paralleled the growing opposition to Republican policies in Congress.