Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin, whose optimism often is a match for that of Ronald Reagan, has brought the president some uncharacteristically bad news about his standing with blue-collar voters who supported him in 1980.
Among these constituents, Reagan increasingly is perceived as a traditional Republican whose policies favor the wealthy at the expense of working people and the elderly.
While Wirthlin won't discuss actual numbers, administration officials say his surveys show that blue-collar voters and their families are returning to the Democratic Party in droves. This is particularly true in the Northeast and Midwest, where joblessness persists and where the GOP suffered heavy losses in the midterm elections.
Social Security, on which the administration and Congress must act before next summer, is a sore point for the president and his party. Many voters believe that Reagan already has cut Social Security benefits, and a majority believes that he wants to reduce them.
The administration also is reeling from the ill-fated "Thanksgiving Offensive" in which White House officials managed to give the impression that the president wanted to tax unemployment benefits. The high unemployment level is most responsible for Reagan's decline with working-class voters, and the stillborn tax on the jobless ratified the impression that Reagan is insensitive or out of touch
Wirthlin, like his president, believes that the administration can recapture lost ground among blue-collar constituents if the economy rebounds. But if there is no evidence of a strong recovery and a reduction in unemployment by late summer or early fall, the pollster has warned the president that the GOP may face a disaster in 1984.
Other straws in the wind drift in from the White House office of planning and evaluation headed by former Wirthlin associate Richard Beal.
A 1984 electoral vote projection done in Beal's shop shows Reagan losing to Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) in a mythical 1984 electoral vote count. The simulation gave Glenn 243 electoral votes and Reagan 212, with 83 votes in the doubtful category. Another matchup showed Reagan with an inconclusive lead over former vice president Walter F. Mondale: Reagan 231, Mondale 186 and doubtful 121.
Beal, trying to play down the importance of Glenn's strong showing at a time when Reagan claims he is undecided about seeking reelection, told Washington Post staff writer David Hoffman that his office does "hundreds and hundreds" of computer simulations of prospective election matchups.
"It could be done by a sophomore at Wichita State, it's so simple," he added.
But Democrats shouldn't grow too giddy at the sign of Reagan's slippage, at least not yet. The president's recasting of his position on the MX missile after a congressional defeat last week suggests that the "great communicator" still remembers how to perform the role of the "great compromiser."
In abandoning a "Dense Pack" basing system which at least one member of his staff called "a botched plan," Reagan gave a hint that he will act reasonably when the tough choices come in 1983.
This would follow the pattern he established 12 years ago when the Democrats won control of the lower house of the California legislature and Reagan proceeded to negotiate important compromises on tax, welfare and education measures with the Democratic opposition.
The man who had much to do with that 1971 compromise, former California Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti, once said of Reagan: "He's an achiever. If he can find a way to achieve within the framework of his ideology, so much the better. If not, he'll still find a way to achieve."
Reagan, who is fond of quoting from his first political idol, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was one-upped last week by Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, who used FDR's words in greeting Reagan: ". . . You and I have a rendezvous with destiny."
Zia also managed to weave the title of Reagan's autobiography -- "Where's The Rest of Me?" -- into a flowery farewell toast complimenting the president's Middle East peace initiative. "I request you to be yourself, to find the rest of you and take this bold step," Zia said.
Within the administration there is speculation that Reagan will name Preston Martin, a Californian whom he knows and likes, as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Democrat Paul A. Volcker's term as chairman ends in August. Martin, a Republican, now is vice chairman.
It is unlikely, however, that the president will make a firm decision until he sees what happens to economic recovery and to the money supply in the spring.
A joke making the rounds within the administration demonstrates the frustration of those who fail to satisfy the Californians in the White House with their Reagan credentials.
According to the joke, loyalty in the campaigns of 1976 and 1980 is insufficient evidence of true Reaganism. Working for Reagan in his first campaign of 1966 is a plus, "but what we're looking for is someone who supported Reagan when he ran for president of the Screen Actors Guild."