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The other side: Reagan's vulnerability

Reporters here mention it on occasion. But they aren't writing it much yet: the President is vulnerable to slippage and could be out of his success-related euphoria and into some deep troubles in not too long a time, perhaps by fall.

The polls tell a story of a President who is still riding fairly high, at about 59 percent.

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The bright side of that figure from Mr. Reagan's point of view, the side analysts tend to emphasize, is that this is a rather impressive performance rating at a time when the President is pushing spending cuts that affect so many Americans.

The other side, of course, is that Mr. Reagan is down nearly 10 percent in public approval from what he was only a few weeks ago and that a similar slide would take him below 50 percent. This could have a decidedly negative effect on what he is trying to do.

A leading House Republican, who makes a strong case for the lasting nature of the new ties between Democratic conservatives and Republicans, was asked if a Reagan dip below 50 percent in the ratings would have an effect on that coalition. Wouldn't it give these conservatives second thoughts before they left their party and voted with the Republicans? His answer: "Yes, that could make a big difference."

Critics of the President aren't too easy to find. At least they are not too vocal. When found, they continue to say that Mr. Reagan is due for his comeuppance soon. They content that, despite the President's friendly way of doing it, he is involved in confrontational politics that is bound to lead to ill feeling and growing tensions between Republicans and Democrats in Congress and elsewhere.

These critics argue that Mr. Reagan will have more trouble in getting his tax policy through Congress than he did his spending cuts. And they see the liberal Democrats in Congress joining with moderate Republicans in bucking, and possibly defeating, the President's efforts in behalf of prayer in the schools and antiabortion legislation.

They further believe that the Reagan decline in popularity stems mainly from the fact that a growing number of Americans have come to think that presidentially initiated spending cuts will reduce their standard of living. Also, they see these cuts having a ripple effect, reaching out to millions of additional Americans who will soon conclude that Mr. Reagan is hurting them more than he is helping them.

"Wait until people see what these Reagan block grants to the states will do to the big cities," one leading Democrat said the other day. "They'll find that all kinds of their services are reduced. And many people -- like the blue-collar workers who voted for Reagan last fall -- may well decide that they don't like him anymore."

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Detractors of the President also cite recent polls which indicate that upward of 30 percent of the voters disapprove of Mr. Reagan, a particularly high disapproval rating for a President this early in his term.

Gallup showed those disapproving of Reagan rising from 21 percent to 28 percent in a month's time. Said one political analyst of this finding:

"This could be Reagan's Achilles' heel. Obviously a lot of Americans now are opposed to him. They will talk against him and, perhaps, work against him. This of itself could help erode his popularity."

Those who are convinced that the President's popularity will soon fade cite recent history for support. A former key aide in the Carter administration put it this way:

"It is not the natural state for a President to be riding high. Sooner or later events come along that knock the props out from under him. It's coming a little later than I expected with Reagan. But it will happen by fall, certainly no later than winter."

Objective observers join the President's critics in the judgment that the President will have to show that his economic package is working fairly soon or he will begin to lose public favor.

"If Reagan's economics go bad," says political expert Richard Scammon, "his support will fall into the Democrats' lap. If his economic programs don't work, that's the end for him."

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