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Even as Bush Prevails, Some Groups Return to Democrats With PM-Election Rdp Bjt

November 10, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ George Bush’s solid victory lacked the majority support of several voter groups, including moderates and Roman Catholics, that would be crucial to a lasting Republican realignment, say poll analysts.

The share of voters calling themselves Democrats went up compared with 1984, an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found, while Republican numbers held about steady. Democrats thus were able to gain in other races.

″The Republicans have held on to the numbers they had in 1984, but the Democrats have gone back to their numbers in 1980,″ said Laurily Epstein, NBC’s chief pollster. ″Despite the Bush victory, we’ve gone back to a situation where the Democrats are the majority party.″

Overall, the polls said Bush stitched together enough of the Reagan coalition of 1980 and 1984 to win the election handily. But they indicated that majority support from some key groups was lacking:

-Catholics voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, but solidly for Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Tuesday they went back to the Democrats, backing Dukakis by 52-48 percent in NBC-Journal exit polling.

-Reagan split women with Carter in 1980 and won women in 1984. Tuesday, a majority of women voted for Dukakis.

-Moderates backed Carter in 1976, then moved to Reagan in the next two elections. Tuesday they voted for Dukakis, by 54-46 in NBC-Journal polling.

Bush also won independents by smaller margins than Reagan’s. And while he pulled in 17 percent of Democrats in CBS News-New York Times polling, that was down from Reagan’s roughly 25 percent in 1980 and ’84.

Bush’s support also seemed to lack a strong personal endorsement from the voters, pollsters said. And his recreation of the Reagan coalition paled in comparison, even if partly because Reagan’s popularity is so great.

″I don’t think there’s a mandate in this data for George Bush,″ said CBS News pollster Warren Mitofsky. ″It’s certainly a comfortable victory. But there’s no overwhelming sentiment for what might be in his new presidency.″

In ABC News exit polling, for example, 45 percent of Bush’s voters said they opposed Dukakis more than they supported Bush. In an even stronger gauge, 14 percent of Bush backers in NBC-Journal polling gave dislike of Dukakis as the primary reason for their vote.

Prosperity was a Bush trump card. In one survey, most voters said the economy had improved since 1980, and overwhelmingly they backed Bush. In another, the economy was the most-often cited issue in candidate selection, and a majority of those voters took Bush.

″It was a pretty clear economic kind of thing,″ Epstein said. ″People who said they had benefited from the Reagan administration’s economic policies voted for Bush. People who said they hadn’t, voted for Dukakis.″

Other issues played in Bush’s favor - such as his experience and his stands on crime - and he sustained little damage from concern over the qualifications of his running mate, Sen. Dan Quayle, the polls found.

Most striking, said Epstein, was the increase in the number of voters identifying themselves as Democrats. In the NBC-Journal poll, 31 percent said they were Republicans, compared to 32 percent in the 1984 election. But 38 percent said they were Democrats, compared to 33 percent in 1984.

The movement in party identification did not harm Reagan’s popularity. About 55 percent in the CBS-Times poll said they approved of his work as president, while only about 40 percent disapproved; the rest had no opinion.

The strongly positive rating rubbed off on Bush: Reagan approvers backed him by 4-1, while the minority who disapproved went for Dukakis, 9-1.

The CBS-Times, ABC and NBC-Journal polls each involved surveys with more than 10,000 voters leaving their polling places. The CBS-Times and ABC polls had two-point margins of error; the NBC-Journal poll, three points.