The latest poll appears to be the bearer of ill tidings for Rep. Bob Michel (R-Ill.), the House minority leader, but he contends that 'twas ever thus. The poll, commissioned by the National Committee for an Effective Congress by request of Michel's Democratic opponent, Douglas Stephens, shows Michel with the support of 42 percent of the voters in the district, Stephens with 33 percent and 25 percent undecided.

A lead of 10 points or less by an incumbent at this point generally is considered bad news, and Stephens, a labor lawyer, has worked strenuously to link Michel with Reaganomics. To the voters in the district, which includes Peoria, hard hit by International Harvester's woes, he regularly asks, in effect, "See what Reagan and Michel have done to you today?"

Michel, however, appears to be philosophical. He traditionally starts a campaign with the theory that each candidate begins with a third of the vote and the fight is over the other third. In 1978, a Michel aide recalls that his opponent, who campaigned so little that the newspapers had to seek him out at home to talk to him, got 34 percent of the vote. Michel's district also was changed by redistricting, which leaves him with a lot of strangers to get acquainted with.