The American public's confidence in the savings and loan industry has eroded sharply in recent months, and while only a handful say they have been directly affected by the S&L crisis, most believe higher taxes are inevitable to pay for the industry's cleanup, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Only 27 percent of those interviewed said they had a great deal or a good amount of confidence in the savings and loan industry -- down from 44 percent in March of 1989. At the same time, those expressing little or no confidence in the industry increased from 56 percent to 72 percent.

The public voiced more concern than in the earlier poll about the ability of the federal insurance system, which insures deposits to $100,000, to pay people who lose their savings when their thrift fails.

Fewer than half -- 47 percent -- said they were confident that the government would have the money to cover depositors' losses, compared to 63 percent in a poll conducted in March, 1989. And 52 percent of those questioned recently expressed little faith that depositors would get their money back, up from 35 percent in the March survey.

Nor is the public confident that the government will bring to justice those savings and loan executives whose fraudulent business practices contributed to the current crisis.

The survey also found that the involvement of Neil Bush, the president's son, in a failed Denver savings and loan has not significantly tarnished his father's administration at this point.

To measure public attitudes toward the savings and loan crisis, the Post and ABC questioned 1,509 randomly selected adults between July 19-24. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus-or-minus three percentage points.

Nearly 9 out of 10 predicted the government will fail to win convictions on most of the few cases that are brought to trial. And more than half -- 58 percent -- said "hardly any" of those convicted will go to jail, even though more than 9 out of 10 said savings and loan executives found guilty of fraud should spend time in jail.

Eight out of 10 persons questioned said the mounting cost of the bailout will require a tax increase -- a prospect that 7 out of 10 acknowledged bothered them "a lot."

The depth of the public's anger suggests rough times ahead for President Bush and congressional incumbents, though the political implications of the scandal are anything but clear.

Fewer than half -- 45 percent -- said Bush is doing all he can to solve the savings and loan crisis, and 58 percent expressed disapproval about the way his administration has handled the situation.

The public is even more critical of Congress. Six out of 10 said Congress wasn't doing as much as it should, and two out of three said the savings and loan industry wasn't doing as much as it could.

Senior polling analyst Sharon Warden contributed to this article.

Q. How much confidence do you have in this country's savings and loan institutions: A great deal, a good amount, only a fair amount or not much at all?

..................................1990............1989

................................July 24..........Mar 16

A great deal or good amount... ....27%..............44%

A fair amount or not much at all...72...............56

Don't know..........................1................-

Q. How sure are you that the federal insurance system will be able to pay people their money if their savings and loan institution goes out of business: Are you very sure people would get their money, fairly sure, fairly unsure, or very unsure?

..................................1990............1989

.................................July 24.........Mar 16

Very or fairly sure................47%..............63%

Fairly or very unsure..............52...............35

Don't know..........................1................2

Q. Who is most to blame for the current savings and loan scandal?

............................................1990

.................................July 24..........June 20

The Bush administration............7%...............5%

The Reagan administration.........42...............30

The Democrats in Congress.........12................8

The Republicans in Congress.......10................6

All of above......................10...............11

None of above......................6................6

Never heard of scandal.............1................3

Don't know........................12...............31

Q. Some people say Neil Bush's involvement in a failed savings and loan raises serious questions about the way the Bush Administration has handled the savings and loan crisis. Others say Neil Bush's business affairs have nothing to do with the policies of his father's administration. Which view comes closest to the way you feel?

..................................1990

.................................July 24

Neil Bush's involvement raises

serious questions..................21%

Neil Bush's business affairs

have nothing to do with his

father's policies..................74

Don't know..........................5

Figures are based on a Washington Post-ABC News telephone survey of 1,509 randomly selected adults nationwide conducted July 19-24. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points but may be more for questions asked of only a portion of the overall sample. Sampling error is, however, only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll. Interviewing for this survey was conducted by Chilton Research Services of Radnor, Pa.