Negative views of Vice President Bush and declining confidence in the future of the economy and the country have combined to help give Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis an early double-digit lead in a presidential trial heat for November.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll of 1,172 randomly selected registered voters found Dukakis -- the likely Democratic nominee -- ahead of Bush -- who has cinched the Republican nomination -- 53 to 40 percent. However, nearly half of each candidate's support is soft and could easily shift in coming months.

Last March, when the two first emerged as probable general-election rivals, Dukakis led by 5 points. Tom Kiley, a senior political strategist for Dukakis, said that the latest poll and similar findings by other news organizations "come out at a time when Dukakis appears to be a very impressive winner" in a series of primaries against his lone remaining challenger, Jesse L. Jackson. "None of us suffers from the illusion we'll continue to see these margins. We expect a very tough race. But it's hard not to be encouraged."

The survey made it clear that Dukakis, at this point, is benefiting more from voters' aversion to Bush and declining confidence in President Reagan and his policies than from deep-seated personal appeal.

Almost three of every five Dukakis supporters in the poll -- 57 percent -- said they plan to vote for him largely because they don't want Bush to win rather than because they like Dukakis. About two out of five Bush partisans said they see their vote as against Dukakis rather than for Bush.

It is unusual for such a high percentage of the vote to be driven by opposition to a candidate, and one Dukakis strategist said it means, "They {the Bush forces} are losing the election at this point; we're not winning it."

A Bush aide said the scarcity of strong positive support for Dukakis indicated "they {the voters} really know nothing about him." But Dukakis' 67-to-10 percent favorable rating, compared with Bush's 50-to-37 favorable rating, gives him what one campaign strategist called "a clean slate on which to write in the coming months."

Republicans have the same opportunity and have extensive plans for publicizing unflattering aspects of Dukakis' record once he cinches the Democratic nomination in early June. But the poll suggests that Bush's negatives could be hard to erase, in part because he is the candidate of the party in power at a time when the incumbent president and his policies are the source of increased concern.

Almost nine out of 10 who strongly approve of Reagan as president support Bush; almost nine out of 10 who strongly disapprove of Reagan back Dukakis.

Unfortunately for Bush, disapproval of Reagan is at 46 percent in the latest poll, which is 9 points higher than at this point in 1984. The survey found 20 percent of the voters saying that Reagan's endorsement of Bush made it less likely they would support Bush, while only 11 percent said it would make them more inclined to back him.

To the extent that Bush is basing his campaign on extending the Reagan era, several other questions indicated it is a shaky foundation. While optimism continues on the future of U.S.-Soviet relations, confidence in the economy's course has declined sharply since 1984. Brushing off economic statistics showing unemployment shrinking, inflation in check and the trade picture improving, only 16 percent of those interviewed in the latest survey said they think the economy is getting better, while 42 percent said it is worsening. By contrast, four years ago this month, 40 percent surveyed said the economy was looking better and only 23 percent said it looked worse.

In May 1984, about the same ratio of people said things in this country were generally going in the right direction as believed they were seriously on the wrong track. This month, there are five naysayers for every three who are upbeat.

The latest poll reaffirmed a finding that has held constant during the past year. Almost six out of 10 voters say they agree with the statement that "we need a president that can set the nation in a new direction" rather than "keep the country moving in the direction Ronald Reagan has been taking us."

The "gender gap" appears to be a huge factor in Dukakis' early lead. Among women, Dukakis holds a 61-to-33 percent advantage; Bush has a 4-point lead among men. In 1984, Reagan won a narrow majority of women and a wide margin among men.

The May survey points out several other areas in which Bush is falling short of Reagan and suggests why he is attracting only about one of every four Democrats who voted for Reagan in 1984, while more than seven out of 10 currently plan to vote for Dukakis.

Throughout the 1984 race, Democratic nominee Walter F. Mondale was frustrated by the large number of nominal Democrats who told pollsters they agreed with him on the issues but regarded Reagan as "a strong leader." In September 1984, 72 percent of voters surveyed applied that label to Reagan and only 37 percent to Mondale.

By contrast, the latest poll shows that while neither candidate has a secure grip on that perception, Dukakis is viewed as "strong" by 54 percent and Bush by 46 percent. Dukakis also has the advantage on other traits, such as honesty, concern for people like the voter, trustworthiness in crisis, vision for the future and ability to get things accomplished. Only on experience -- the resume factor -- is Bush rated clearly superior, according to the poll.

The survey found on issues that Bush's strongest advantage lies in national defense, with smaller leads on combating inflation and keeping down taxes. Dukakis is out front on virtually every other issue -- including illegal drugs, which have surged to the top of the voter concerns.

If it becomes a pure pocketbook election, 43 percent say they believe they would personally be better off under Dukakis and 40 percent say Bush would be better for their wallets. Four years ago, by contrast, Reagan regularly enjoyed leads of 16 points or more over Mondale on that question.

The closeness of that pocketbook question suggests that despite Dukakis' early lead, the ingredients are present for a tight election. And when this sample of voters was asked who they thought would win the presidency, they split evenly, with 45 percent betting on the Republicans and 45 percent on the Democrats.

Polling analyst Kenneth E. John contributed to this report.

THE ISSUES

Q. In your opinion, what do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?

........................... OCT. .... MAY

Drugs...................... 6% ...... 26%

Federal budget deficit...... 8 ....... 8

Economy..................... 6 ....... 8

Poverty..................... - ....... 6

Threat of war............... 9 ....... 6

Unemployment................ 6 ....... 5

WHO WILL WIN IN NOVEMBER?

Q. Overall, which party, the Republicans or the Democrats, do you trust to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?

Democrats.................. 47%

Republicans.................40

Q. As of today would you say that the Democrats or the Republicans have the best chance of winning the presidency in November?

..........................JAN........MAY

Democrats.................38%........45%

Republicans...............56.........45

TRIAL HEAT

Q. If the 1988 presidential election were being held today and the candidates were George Bush, the Republican, and Michael Dukakis, the Democrat, for whom would you vote?

.......................MARCH.....MAY

Dukakis................50%.......53%

Bush...................45........40

Undecided...............5.........7

FAVORABLE/UNFAVORABLE

Q. I'm going to mention the names of a few public figures. For each, please tell me whether you have a favorable or unfavorable impression of that person or if, perhaps, you don't know enough to say.

How about George Bush?

Favorable 50%

Unfavorable 37

Don't know 13

How about Michael Dukakis?

Favorable 67%

Unfavorable 10

Don't know 23

NATIONAL PROBLEMS

Q. Now, regardless of how you might vote, I'd like you to compare Dukakis and Bush in some ways. Under which candidate, Dukakis or Bush, do you think you personally would be better off financially?

Dukakis....... 43%

Bush.......... 40

Q. Which candidate, Dukakis or Bush, would do better at: Keeping the United States out of war.

Dukakis....... 45%

Bush.......... 35

Controlling inflation.

Dukakis....... 41%

Bush.......... 45

Helping the poor.

Dukakis....... 71%

Bush.......... 18

Helping the elderly.

Dukakis....... 63%

Bush.......... 23

Reducing the problem of illegal drugs.

Dukakis....... 41%

Bush.......... 35

Maintaining a strong national defense.

Dukakis........ 28%

Bush........... 61

Holding taxes down.

Dukakis........ 39%

Bush........... 45

Protecting the Social Security system.

Dukakis........ 53%

Bush........... 30

Keeping unemployment down.

Dukakis......... 51%

Bush............ 35

Providing leadership for the country.

Dukakis.......... 48%

Bush............. 40

Reducing the threat of nuclear war.

Dukakis.......... 42%

Bush............. 39

Reducing the federal budget deficit.

Dukakis.......... 47%

Bush............. 35

Maintaining high ethical and moral standards in his administration.

Dukakis.......... 49%

Bush............. 32

PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS

Now I'd like to read you a few ways people describe presidential candidates. For each description, please tell me whether it applies to the candidates or not.

Q. Does the statement, "He is a strong leader," apply to:

..................... BUSH ...... DUKAKIS

Applies................46%.........54%

Does not apply.........48..........34

Q. Does the statement, "He cares about the concerns of people like you," apply to:

Applies................50%.........68%

Does not apply.........44..........24%

Q. Does the statement, "He has a vision for the future of the country," apply to:

Applies................60%.........69%

Does not apply.........34..........23

Q. Does the statement, "He has the right kind of experience to be president," apply to:

Applies................70%.........53%

Does not apply.........27..........40%

Q. Does the statement, "He would get things done," apply to:

Applies................55%.........64%

Does not apply.........37..........26%

Q. Does the statement, "He can be trusted in a crisis," apply to:

Applies................54%.........60%

Does not apply.........36..........23

Q. Does the statement, "He is honest," apply to:

Applies................59%.........72%

Does not apply.........33..........16

IDEOLOGY

Q. Are Michael Dukakis' views too liberal for you, too conservative for you, just about right for you or aren't you sure?

Too liberal........ 19%

Too conservative.... 6

Just about right... 41

Don't know......... 34

Q. Are George Bush's views too liberal for you, too conservative for you, just about right for you or aren't you sure?

Too liberal......... 6%

Too conservative... 28

Just about right... 34

Don't know......... 32