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The Times Poll : GOP Shows Its Discontent With President's Policies

February 09, 1988|GEORGE SKELTON | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and former television evangelist Pat Robertson both capitalized on the disenchantment of Iowa Republicans with the nation's direction to deliver a stunning blow to Vice President George Bush in Monday night's caucuses, the Los Angeles Times Poll found.

In addition, Dole and the Democratic winner--Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt--both benefited from their emphasis on agriculture issues.

Farm issues were the third "most important" for Republicans, and people concerned about agriculture went for Dole by a landslide, with 3 in 5 backing the Kansas senator.

Half of Gephardt's support came from people concerned about farm problems, according to Times interviews with 1,329 Iowans who attended Democratic caucuses.

President Reagan, continued to enjoy a Teflon coating among Iowa Republicans, with nearly three-fourths of them approving of his job performance, the survey showed. But the nation's policies that he presides over clearly are not so popular.

A third of the Iowans who attended GOP caucuses think the nation has "gotten off on the wrong track," Times interviews with 1,264 of them showed. And roughly half of these people voted for Robertson. A fifth sided with Dole.

Half of the Republican caucus participants seemed ambivalent about the nation's direction and, of these people, 4 in 10 backed Dole. Robertson picked up another 2 in 10. Only 1 in 7 of those surveyed said they are optimistic that the nation is headed "in the right direction," and Bush and Dole ran virtually even among this group.

Another sign of the unhappiness of Iowa Republicans with national policies was that three-fourths agreed with the statement: "We need a basic change in the way things are being run in this country." Among these people, Dole and Robertson ran virtually dead even.

By far the biggest issue among GOP caucus-goers was the federal budget deficit, another sign of unhappiness with Administration policies. Nearly two-thirds of the Republicans cited the deficit as "the most important issue" they considered in choosing a candidate, and these caucus-goers picked Dole 2 to 1 over Robertson and nearly 3 to 1 over Bush.

Morality was the second most important issue for Republicans, with more than a third selecting it as "most important." And among people concerned about morality, Robertson beat Dole by roughly 4 to 3.

Like Republicans, Democrats were primarily concerned about the federal deficit, with more than half calling it the "most important" issue. But Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon benefited the most from this issue, with roughly two-thirds of their supporters being mainly concerned about overspending.

'Don't Trust' Hart

Gary Hart, who abandoned his front-running campaign amid a sex scandal last May, dramatically re-entered the race in December with a declaration that "the voters should decide." Iowans decided, in significant numbers, that "he uses poor judgment" and "I just don't trust him." And asked whom they would "least like to see get the nomination"--among Gephardt, Simon, Dukakis, former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Hart--two-thirds of the Democrats chose Hart.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson ran relatively well in Iowa, considering that the state--on paper--did not figure to be fertile ground for the civil rights leader. Jackson's political success always has depended upon sizable blocs of black voters. And less than 2% of Iowa's adult population is black, compared to 10.5% of the total U.S. adult population.

In The Times last nationwide poll, in December, 54% of Jackson's support came from blacks. But in Monday night's caucuses, the civil rights leader's supporters were predominately white and economically upscale.

Both Dole and Gephardt used their emphasis on aiding Iowa's beleaguered farmers to good effect, the poll found. Dole pointed to his sponsorship of a 1985 farm bill that, to a significant degree, helped check the depressed land values, bankruptcies and foreclosures that plagued America's heartland for the first half of this decade. Gephardt also stumped the state promoting a landmark agriculture bill he is co-sponsoring, a measure that would allow growers to set their own production controls.

Dole, Bush Feud

The battle between Bush and Dole got ugly during the final days of the Iowa race, with Bush calling the senator a "mean-spirited" politician with a "record of cronyism" and Dole accusing Bush of "riding in the gutter." For months, Dole has tried to portray Bush as a "wimp," asserting that as a Senate leader he himself has "a record," while the vice president only has "a resume"--and that while he has been fighting "on the field" for Reagan's programs, Bush has been sitting "on the bench" merely as the President's understudy.

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