As the Democratic National Convention nears, Michael S. Dukakis is leading Vice President George Bush by 11 percentage points nationwide, largely because American voters want to change direction from the Reagan Administration and they reject the charge that the Massachusetts governor is too liberal, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
"Reagan Democrats"--those Democrats who left their party to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984--now are being drawn to Dukakis. Mirroring the rest of the electorate, they currently favor the Democratic candidate over the Republican by 11 points, the survey found.
On the other hand, the vice president benefits from the voters' serious reservations about the governor's ability to handle foreign affairs and national defense, and they trust Bush more to hold down taxes.
However, the voters see little difference between the two candidates' abilities to promote "peace" and "prosperity," despite Bush's argument that he deserves support because Reagan has kept the peace and strengthened the economy.
And, in a sign that many voters agree with Dukakis that there has been too much "sleaze" in the Reagan Administration, he is viewed as the candidate who would best "promote morality in government." In addition, they give him a slight edge as the potential President who would be "toughest on crime."
The Times Poll interviewed 1,763 registered voters by telephone over six days ending last Sunday night. The margin of error is 3 percentage points in either direction.
When asked for whom they would vote if the election were held today, those surveyed replied Dukakis 49%, Bush 38%, "somebody else" 8%, undecided 5%.
"Michael Dukakis is a very careful man and, so far, he has avoided the mistakes of earlier Democratic candidates," Times Poll Director I. A. Lewis said. "Another way of saying that is, he's ahead right now because of what he isn't. He isn't perceived as an appeaser of special interest groups or permissive on crime or soft on communism."
A 'Bounce' at Convention
Lewis added that Dukakis can expect to emerge from next week's convention "with even higher poll figures, depending on the degree of 'bounce' he receives from four days of national media coverage." Then, in August, Lewis noted, Bush can expect a "bounce" of his own from the Republican convention.
One big problem for Bush is that voters in every region of the country say overwhelmingly, by 2 to 1, that "the next President should point the country in a new direction" rather than "continue the policies of Ronald Reagan." Democrats think this by nearly 4 to 1 and independents concur by 5 to 3. Even Republicans are evenly divided on the question.
In fact, voters believe--by about 5 to 3--that it "hurts" rather than "helps" Bush "to have been so closely connected to the Reagan Administration." Even about a third of the Republicans think this and about half the independents do.
Charges of Liberalism
Dukakis so far seems to be weathering Republican charges--by Reagan and Bush and practically every GOP leader in the nation--that he is too liberal for the American mainstream. About half of Dukakis' supporters told The Times that they consider his politics to be "pretty much the same" as their own. The remainder was closely divided among persons who consider Dukakis either to be more liberal or more conservative or who aren't sure.
However, voters, by 2 to 1, said they thought that Bush--the former CIA director, United Nations ambassador and U.S. envoy to China--would do "the best job of handling foreign affairs" and "securing the national defense." Even Democrats were divided on this question.
And voters said, by 4 to 3, that Bush "would do the best job of holding down taxes." At the same time, much of the electorate seems resigned to a tax increase. Those interviewed basically were equally divided when asked whether "the next administration will have to raise taxes in order to reduce the federal budget deficit."
Bush's problem is illustrated by an examination of how Democrats, Republicans and independents are lining up behind the candidates. Because Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by roughly 3 to 2 across the nation, any successful GOP presidential candidate must keep defections to a minimum within his own party and draw significantly from the other side.
But, presently, Bush is getting just 17% of the Democratic vote but Dukakis is pulling 21% from the GOP. Each candidate is being supported by roughly two-thirds of his own party, with independents narrowly backing Dukakis.
Dukakis Runs Best in West
By region, Dukakis is running best in the West--long a bastion of Republicanism in presidential politics. The New England Democrat leads Bush by 18 percentage points throughout the West, due in large part to strong support in populous California.
Dukakis leads by 14 points in the Midwest and 12 in the East. Only in the South are the two candidates running virtually even statistically (Dukakis 45%, Bush 42%), a situation Dukakis has tried to improve by selecting Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate.
By groups, Bush has an 11-point lead among Southern whites and a 7-point edge among non-Southern white Protestants. But Dukakis is favored outside the South by Catholics (by a margin of 16 points) and union members (by 44 points).
Blacks support Dukakis over Bush by 51 points, but the real significance here is that in 1984 they backed Democrat Walter F. Mondale over Reagan by 80 points. In this survey, one-fourth of the blacks--five times more than voters as a whole--said they would cast their ballots for "somebody else" besides Dukakis or Bush. Dukakis was getting 61% of the black vote, but in 1984 Mondale got 90%.
The black responses presumably reflect strong support for the Rev. Jesse Jackson and illustrate again the delicate problem Dukakis faces in dealing with Jackson and coaxing blacks to the polls on Election Day after having not selected the civil rights leader as the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Seventy-three percent of the blacks had a favorable impression of Dukakis, against only 9% unfavorable--but that was before Dukakis announced his vice presidential choice.
Overall, the voters' impressions of Dukakis were 66% favorable, 18% unfavorable and 16% not sure. Bush was better known but also had higher "negatives"--60% favorable, 33% unfavorable, 7% not sure. As for Jackson, his ratings were only 50% favorable, 42% unfavorable and 8% not sure.
Voters were also asked who they thought "would make the best candidate for vice president on the Republican ticket." Kansas Sen. Bob Dole topped the list with 14%, followed by former White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., 7%. But 66% offered no opinion. Among GOP voters, Dole led with 17%, followed by Baker at 9%.
VOTER TRENDS IN SURVEY Presidential Preference of Democrats Who Voted for Reagan
in '80 & '84 in '84 in '80 never Dukakis 52% 64% 60% 87% Bush 41 26 30 2 Someone else 4 6 8 8 Undecided 3 4 2 3
Key Voting Blocs in 1988 vs. 1984
Southern Non-Southern Whites WASPS Catholics Union Latinos* 1988: Dukakis 39% 42% 51% 68% 59% Bush 50 49 35 24 27 1984: Mondale 22 28 36 45 51 Reagan 77 71 63 54 46