The prospective presidential candidacy of Vice President Bush received substantial support in a survey of members of nine major conservative organizations that was released here yesterday.
The survey, whose details were given at the conclusion of the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual meeting, found 36.3 percent named Bush as their choice to succeed President Reagan. Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) was named by 16.9 percent, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) by 7.5 percent and former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) by 5.5 percent. Six other political figures also received votes, with 18.7 percent undecided.
When asked to select from among the top four, 42 percent picked Bush, 24.4 percent went for Kemp, 12.4 percent named Dole, 9.5 percent voted for Baker and 11.7 percent were undecided.
The results show that Bush "has established himself as an acceptable candidate to conservatives," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a consultant to Dole.
Keene's assessment was generally accepted by John Maxwell, who runs Kemp's Campaign for Prosperity political action committee. Nevertheless, Maxwell said, "Bush doesn't have a lock on the nomination today."
Maxwell also said that among conservatives, "the greater the degree of activism, the more likely they are to support Kemp," a point also made by Keene. Maxwell noted that a separate straw poll of 222 persons attending the conference showed overwhelming support for Kemp.
A basic premise of Kemp's unannounced presidential campaign is that he could successfully challenge Bush from the right by claiming a deeper and longer commitment to the conservative principles developed by Reagan.
The poll, conducted by Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates and paid for by the conference, was a sampling of 402 persons selected from the membership and contributor lists of the National Congressional Club, the National Tax Limitation Committee, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the American Conservative Union, the Committee for the Right to Bear Arms, the Committee for a Sound Economy, the Council for Inter-American Security, the Public Service Research Council and the Conservative Alliance. Their combined members and contributors total about 1.2 million people, Keene said.
Keene said that while Bush led the poll, the results were "not what I would call an overwhelming endorsement." His assessment of the poll was, however, more critical of Kemp's progress.
Kemp, he said, is claiming to be the "heir apparent of the mantle of the conservative movement. . . . The numbers do not bear that out."
More conservatives had no opinion of or had never heard of Kemp than of the other candidates, 37.5 percent, compared to 8.2 percent for Bush, 20.1 percent for Dole and 26.1 percent for Baker.
In addition to the candidate findings, Keene stressed the surprisingly low level of emphasis placed by conservatives surveyed on such social issues as abortion and school prayer compared with the intensity of concern for economic and foreign policy questions.
Asked to rank as "most important," 57.7 percent choose economic issues, 26.6 percent choose foreign policy and 13.2 percent said social issues, with 3.5 percent declining to answer.
When asked to pick specific issues, 45.7 percent identified such topics as the deficit, Social Security and taxes, while only 1.3 percent named abortion, and 3.5 percent identified issues of religion and morality.
In the separate straw poll of 222 conference participants out of more than 800 in attendance at CPAC's 13th annual meeting, Kemp was the overwhelming favorite, with 151 votes, compared to 25 for Bush and far smaller numbers for other candidates.