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Voter Support for Bush Lags in New Hampshire : Politics: Residents of the state give President a lower rating than those in the rest of the nation, a poll finds.


WASHINGTON — New Hampshire voters are focused more tightly on the economy--and feel more pessimistic about it--than voters nationwide and as a result feel less favorably disposed toward President Bush than residents of other states, according to a new Times Mirror survey.

New Hampshire residents surveyed gave Bush a 37% job-approval rating, compared to 46% nationally. Only 56% of New Hampshire Republicans approved of Bush's performance, far lower than his 78% rating among Republicans nationwide.

When it comes to choosing between Bush and opponent Patrick J. Buchanan, however, the poll shows voters have mixed motivations.

A large chunk of the likely primary electorate--37%--has an unfavorable impression of Buchanan. At the same time, however, many likely voters say they lean toward Buchanan even though they take stands that oppose Buchanan's hard-right positions on leading issues. That would indicate that many voters see their ballot more as an anti-Bush protest than as a pro-Buchanan vote.

The poll also points toward a problem for some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls: New Hampshire voters are so focused on the economy that they have little attention left for other issues, such as health care.

Nationally, a Times Mirror survey in November found "improving health care" tightly grouped with reducing unemployment and improving education as "the most important thing for the President to do in the future."

In New Hampshire, by contrast, a full 40% of respondents cited reducing unemployment as the No. 1 priority, and only 15% cited improving health care. Among Democrats, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska bases much of his campaign on his call for a national health care system.

The survey also found that New Hampshire residents are less likely to support trade protectionism than people nationwide, despite the state's economic difficulties--perhaps a legacy of the state's New England "Yankee trader" history.

In the November national Times Mirror survey, 53% of those polled said they "completely agree" that American jobs need to be protected from foreign competition. In the New Hampshire survey, by contrast, only 42% completely agreed with that statement.

A later national survey in January found 50% of respondents citing "jobs lost to foreign competition" as the problem that most worried them about future economic conditions. In that survey, 31% also said that jobs lost to overseas competition caused them to worry about their own futures.

By contrast, in the New Hampshire survey, only 37% of respondents cited foreign competition as their main fear about the nation, and only 24% cited it as a reason to fear for their own futures.

Bush has warned against protectionism, which Buchanan supports. On the Democratic side, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has taken a strong protectionist stand, and Kerrey has run a strongly protectionist advertisement, although his record on the issue is mixed.

The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, was based on telephone interviews with 1,016 registered voters in New Hampshire conducted Jan. 9-12. The survey included a subsample of 495 probable Republican primary voters and 375 probable Democratic voters. The subsamples include independents, who can vote in either primary. The Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press, which issued the survey, receives its funds from the Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times and other newspaper, broadcasting and publishing enterprises.

Among the likely Democratic voters, the poll showed Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in the lead with 27%, followed by 26% who were undecided. Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas had 20% while Kerrey had 11%, former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. had 10% and Harkin had 4%. But, because the survey ended before most of the Democrats began their full-scale advertising campaigns in New Hampshire, the numbers may not reflect the current standings.

The survey indicated that Brown and Tsongas are the best known of the Democrats. But of those who recognized Brown's name, 50% held an unfavorable impression of him. Tsongas and the other Democrats generally received highly favorable ratings among those who knew enough about them to form an opinion.

At the time of the survey, Bush led Buchanan, 66% to 20%, among likely GOP primary voters.

As past surveys have shown, New Hampshire residents support abortion rights more strongly than people nationwide. Among New Hampshire residents surveyed, 73% agree that abortion rights should be preserved, compared to 64% nationally. The poll did not, however, ask any questions about steps that might limit abortions but not ban them.

Among Republicans who said they were likely to vote for Bush in the primary, 62% said they supported preserving the right to abortion. Among those likely to vote for Buchanan, 49% said they supported abortion rights. Both Bush and Buchanan oppose the right to abortion.

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