Economic conditions in Virginia will go from bad to worse during the first half of next year, with start-up businesses and those seeking to expand facing especially difficult times, according to a poll of accountants practicing in the commonwealth.

The findings, based on the day-to-day experiences of certified public accountants (CPAs) in helping businesses cope with the downturn, suggest that economic problems will become even more severe before things begin to get better.

Economists generally agree that Virginia and the Washington area are already in a slump, but there remains much debate on the severity of the downturn, as well as on its duration. More than 56 percent of those polled said they expect business conditions in Virginia to be worse in six months.

While cautioning that CPAs are not economists and "are conservative by nature," they "see a fairly bleak picture ... as far as 1991 goes," said Kenneth W. Huffman, president of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants, which conducted the poll.

He said the poll data, reflecting the views of 600 CPAs around the state, comes from "looking at actual numbers from actual clients in actual situations." The accountants help their clients with problems ranging from tax planning to budgets to loan applications, and "they have to have some feel for what the future might hold before they can do their jobs," Huffman said. Among the other findings of the poll:

More than half of the respondents rated business conditions in Northern Virginia -- along with the Tidewater and Roanoke/Danville areas -- as "bad."

While Richmond, Charlottesville and the Blue Ridge areas are doing better than the rest of the state at the moment, the CPAs expect Richmond and the Blue Ridge to turn downward during 1991.

An overwhelming majority -- 87 percent -- expect some form of new taxes to be imposed by the state over the next few years. Indeed, about half agreed that the state's budget deficit is the most important negative factor in the state's current business environment.

Accountants' groups in several other states conducted similar polls, and the results confirm the widely held impression that economic conditions are very uneven across the nation.

In Arizona, where the real estate collapse has been especially spectacular, 77 percent of the accountants characterized conditions as bad. Three-quarters of the CPAs pointed to the savings and loan crisis as the strongest negative factor in the state's economy.

On the other hand, 70 percent of CPAs in Ohio, which took a beating in the recession of the early 1980s, felt conditions there were normal, with only one-fifth calling them bad.

Overall in Virginia, 47.7 percent of the CPAs termed current conditions bad, while 45.5 percent said they are normal and 6.8 percent said they are good.

Pennsylvania and North Carolina showed somewhat similar findings, with the Keystone State showing 43.6 percent bad, 50.4 percent normal and 6.0 percent good, and North Carolina coming in at 36.5 percent bad, 52.1 percent normal and 11.4 percent good. At the same time, half or more of the accountants in all these states except Arizona expect things to be worse six months from now.

Huffman said the worst news in Virginia is concentrated in real estate, retailing and manufacturing. Real estate continues to suffer from overbuilding and a credit squeeze, while the other two sectors are victims of the recession itself.