Public sentiment against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork has mounted in recent weeks to the point that a slight plurality of the public opposes Bork's confirmation by the Senate, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

The poll, conducted during and after Bork's five days of public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, showed 44 percent of those who are aware of the nomination approve of it and 48 percent disapprove. This is a shift from the last Post-ABC poll on Bork in early August, when 45 percent supported the nomination and 40 percent opposed it.

The results suggest that the public remains sharply divided over the Bork nomination but that undecided voters are joining the opposition to Bork as more attention is focused on the confirmation battle.

The poll also shows President Reagan's overall approval rating holding fairly steady at 52 percent. Approval of his conduct of foreign policy has increased to 47 percent, up from 42 percent in August. However, this did not translate into a boost in support for U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan contras. Sixty-one percent of the public opposes such aid.

The partisan and ideological nature of the Bork confirmation fight is evident in the poll results, which are based on interviews with the 70 percent of respondents who said they had heard or read of the nomination. In August, only 45 percent of poll respondents said they were aware of it.

Among Democrats, opposition to Bork's nomination surged to 71 percent, from 56 percent in August. Bork retains support from about two-thirds of Republicans.

Bork's opponents have tried to depict him his as a rigid, conservative ideologue. Where they have succeeded, they have generated intense opposition. Among voters who see Bork as "very conservative," 83 percent disapprove of his nomination. In contrast, 86 percent of those who view Bork as a "moderate" approve of it.

The poll confirms the impression of lobbyists and senators engaged in the confirmation battle that Bork's opponents feel more strongly about the nomination than do his supporters.

There was some good news for Bork in the poll. It showed a modest decline from August in the number of people who consider him "very conservative" and indicated that six out of 10 respondents do not think that the high court would become more conservative if he is confirmed.

But Bork, who is being opposed by an array of women's groups, continues to suffer from a wide gender gap in the public perceptions of his likely impact on the Supreme Court, according to the poll. Among women, opposition to the nomination rose from 44 percent in the August survey to 53 percent now. Among men, opposition rose from 36 percent to 44 percent.

In both these gender categories, as well as other subgroups of those polled, Bork's approval level remained fairly steady while there was an increase in the number of those who disapprove of his nomination as public awareness of the confirmation fight grew.

Bork suffered some erosion in all regions of the country, with one of the sharpest declines occurring in the South, which many consider the key battleground because of the large number of uncommitted southern Democrats in the Senate. In August, Bork had clear support in the South, where 47 percent approved his nomination and 32 percent disapproved.

But in the latest poll, the South was evenly split, with 46 percent favoring Bork's confimation and 46 percent opposed.

This trend could be particularly troubling to White House strategists who, like Bork's opponents, see conservative southern Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans as the key to the outcome of the battle on the Senate floor. The poll showed that opposition to Bork among southern whites rose from 25 percent in August to 41 percent.

Moreover, the key southern Democrats include four freshmen who, according to ABC News exit polls last November, owe their election victories to black voters.

In the latest poll, eight of 10 black respondents said they disapprove of Bork's nomination to the high court.

One of the freshmen southern Democrats, Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), said this week that "the people who most strongly supported me are the most strongly The poll confirms the impression of lobbyists and senators that Bork's opponents feel more strongly about the nomination than do his supporters.

opposed to Bork. That has to be a factor -- not a political factor but a representative factor."

Describing himself as undecided, Breaux added that if he votes to confirm Bork, "I better have a hell of a good reason."

Informed of the poll results yesterday, Will Ball, chief White House legislative liaison, said the erosion in support for Bork in the poll is small and that the administration remains confident he will be confirmed.

"There ain't but one vote that counts on this one. And that's the {Senate} roll call, we hope in early October," he said.

Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is coordinating opposition to the Bork nomination, noted that Bork's supporters had predicted that the force of his intellect and personality in public testimony would be the "secret weapon" that won confirmation.

"It was going to overwhelm the Senate Judiciary Committee and the country, and that obviously didn't happen," Neas said. "Rather than allay doubts about him, it reinforced them."

According to the poll, the public continues to hold the Supreme Court in high esteem, with 65 percent approving of the job the court has done and 52 percent calling its decisions "generally balanced." On specific issues, 54 percent of the respondents said they support the court's 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, while 43 percent do not. The court's decision outlawing prayer in public schools is opposed by 62 percent and supported by 37 percent.

Opinions of these two issues have not shifted dramatically in polls over the last few years.

It was clear from the poll that Bork's supporters lost one aspect of the public debate before the Judiciary Committee hearings began, when they argued that Bork's experience and legal qualifications should be the only criteria in judging him. Fifty-one percent of the respondents said they consider Bork qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, but 60 percent said the Senate should also consider his political views.

Meanwhile, Reagan's overall approval rating of 52 percent is up two points since August and is about the level it has been all year. His best approval rating was 65 percent, for his handling of relations with the Soviet Union. In comparison, 45 percent approve of his handling of the economy.

The poll, which was largely completed before U.S. naval forces attacked and captured an Iranian ship laying mines in the Persian Gulf, showed 53 percent in favor of U.S. escorting of Kuwaiti oil tankers and 44 percent opposed.

The poll also reflects a modest gain in overall public confidence in the country, with 43 percent saying that things are generally going in the right direction compared with 35 percent who said that in late June.Polling analyst Kenneth E. John contributed to this report.

. As you may know, Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. has retired and President Reagan has named Robert H. Bork to replace him. Do you approve or disapprove of Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court?

SEPTEMBER AUGUST

APPROVE DISAPPROVE APPROVE DISAPPROVE

44% 48% 45% 40%

NO OPINION 8% 15%

SEPTEMBER

AUGUST

APPROVE DISAPPROVE APPROVE DISAPPROVE

Liberal 25% 70% 27% 60%

Moderate 40 51 40 42

Conservative 65 28 70 14

Democrat 23 71 25 56

Republican 65 27 66 22

Male 50 44 51 36

Female 37 53 38 44

East 40

53 38 49

Midwest 46

46 46 35

South 46 46 47 32

West 41 51 46 46

Q. Generally speaking, would you say Bork is qualified or not qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, or is that something you don't have an opinion on?

SEPTEMBER AUGUST

Bork is qualified 51% 48%

Is not qualified 21

12

No opinion 28 40

Q. As you may know, the U.S. Senate will decide whether Bork will become a Supreme Court justice. Would you say that the Senate should only consider Bork's background and qualifications, or should the Senate also consider Bork's views?

SEPTEMBER

AUGUST

Should consider only background and qualifications 38%

46%

Should consider political views 60 51

No opinion 2 3

Figures are based on 1,544 people aware of the Bork nomination in a Washington Post-ABC News telephone poll Sept. 17-23 and 584 people aware of the nomination in a Post-ABC poll Aug. 3-5.

Percentage of no opinion is not shown.