HARTFORD -- To 19-year-old Trinity College student Patricia Pierson, the Bush-Gorbachev summit was "just like the shampoo ad," with the American president in effect letting his Soviet counterpart know, "If you don't look good, we don't look good."

To 69-year-old Pius J. Nasvytis, a native of Lithuania, the Washington and Camp David talks demonstrated "President Bush's mania for doing what is perceived as popular rather than what is moral -- and to me this is not a sign of a great leader."

To Mary Lou Blauvelt, a Republican real estate agent, and to Walter A. Clebowitz, a Democratic lawyer, what they saw on the television screen from the two presidents' Sunday morning joint news conference left them hopeful -- if not totally convinced that the toughest problems are in the past.

Clebowitz, 39, is of Ukrainian descent, reads Russian and Ukrainian publications, and found the summit decisions reflected Bush's decision to do what was necessary to meet Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's needs. "He's trying to modernize his society . . . and in order to do that, he needs time. He needs stability outside his borders. I look at everything going on here as getting him that stability."

Blauvelt, 56, said the summit maneuvering made her feel "I may be in over my head," but she offered a visceral reaction: "I like these two men very much, and I just get upset when I hear people knocking down either one of these guys. . . . You know, we've gotten the green light and it seems to me we have an obligation to go forward."

They were four of a dozen Connecticut voters who watched the Bush-Gorbachev news conference and then shared their summit reactions with The Washington Post. The hour-long conversation with this microcosm of the American public demonstrated that, for all his talents, Gorbachev is seen as a weakened leader, and for all his tact, Bush is walking a narrow line between principle and pragmatism.

As the group discussed the possibility that a new era of U.S.-Soviet relations is taking shape, they repeatedly described Bush and Gorbachev as "realistic."

{Samplings by Washington Post reporters yesterday in four cities around the country found voters had neither followed the summit closely nor were much impressed by what they had learned of it. "It seemed like it went off without a hitch," said Austin haberdasher Ron Kercheville, "but I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I never got a sense that any milestones were reached."

{"The feeling I got was that they didn't accomplish as much as they had hoped," said New York University marketing student Stephanie Strickland. "I was hoping some things would be resolved at the summit," said foundation treasurer Deborah Kerr in Los Angeles, "but there's still a lot of work to be done."}

In the Hartford group, ironically, Bush's toughest critic was a man who worked hard for his election, fellow-Yale man, Republican activist and freelance writer John K. Brubaker, 37. Brubaker said Bush "lost me" when he refused to order economic sanctions against China after the Tiananmen Square demonstrators were crushed a year ago. "What concerns me," he said, "is the dependence of American foreign policy on Gorbachev and Bush's elevation of him to practically his running-mate status. You look at the two of them -- Gorby and George -- and they look like running mates to me."

But many others endorsed Bush's view that the two presidents have "a shared responsibility," and most of these voters said the world was fortunate in the qualities the two men possess.

Once again, Gorbachev came across to many as the stronger, more dynamic of the duo. "I believe Gorbachev tries to push the agenda more than Bush," said Herman Googe, a 46-year-old defense worker and Democrat. "I also think that Gorbachev was the better negotiator."

John F. Croce, a retired savings and loan official, who crossed party lines to vote for Bush, had a different impression. "I think Mr. Gorbachev has been taking a lesson from Mr. Bush as far as being political. The past presidents of the Soviet Union have all been dominant individuals, almost military. Now Mr. Gorbachev is confronted with a situation at home where he has to be a representative of the people -- a little more political and humane."

With many references to the growing power of Gorbachev's rival Boris Yeltsin and the shortages of food in the cities, almost everyone in this group seemed to feel that Gorbachev was playing a weak hand.

Remarked collegian Pierson, who visited the Soviet Union last summer, "I think Bush in Gorbachev's position would not last a year."

Most argued that the United States should do what it can to ease Gorbachev's position. "I think they're both practical people," said Roger J. Kern, 42, who runs a tool-and-die company that supplies the defense industry. "And I think Bush is smart enough to know that for the process to continue, based on the domestic situation Gorbachev faces, that he had to let him come away a winner. If he comes away a loser, then where will we be if he falls from grace?"

Agreeing, Earl Shepherd, a Hartford social worker and independent Republican, called Gorbachev "a sort of unique person in history," adding, "We ought to capitalize on this opportunity to really increase the level of communication between us."

The view that the United States should accept Gorbachev on his own terms and deal with him as an equal was strongly challenged in the discussion by two Republicans, Nasvytis and Brubaker.

Decrying what he called Bush's willingness to grant Gorbachev "moral equivalency," Nasvytis said it reflected a basic misjudgment of the situation. "The Gorbachev Americans see is entirely different from the one the Soviet people see," he said. "In the Soviet Union, he's not being credited with perestroika. You know who's credited for perestroika in the Soviet Union? Ronald Reagan."

Even more pointedly, campaign worker Brubaker complained that "Bush has lost any moral high ground he may have had. What he's doing now makes perfect sense to me -- to subsidize the Soviet military, because you've already subsidized the butcherers and murderers of those {Chinese} students who are fighting for freedom."

But most of the others were not swayed by these statements. Shepherd said that before "we decide our moral position is much stronger than theirs," Americans should recall "the different groups that have been clearly stepped on in this country. We've certainly done enough." Said Croce: "We've got some hidden skeletons in our past that we're somewhat ashamed of."

"If we look back at the Spanish-American war," Kern said, "our foreign policy has always been based on self-interest and I don't see any change there. The biggest dividend and the biggest hope is not summitry but a better relationship with the Soviet Union . . . and perhaps there's some tradeoffs that have to be made to accomplish that. . . . Maybe Lithuania has to be put on the back burner if Germany is going to be resolved."

Many in the group said the German question was the next major test of U.S.-Soviet relations. On this issue, Gorbachev clearly scored some points.

Noting how Gorbachev "stressed the 27 million {Soviets} who died and the . . . total destruction of their society {in World War II}," Clebowitz said, "they have a very valid concern that Germany not become militaristic again and not have a Fourth Reich. Their concerns have to be dealt with."

Some saw a deeper reason for a still-undefined U.S.-Soviet deal on Germany. Googe observed that both presidents "seemed to be very polite and didn't want to tick each other off or say something that's going to, let's say, mess up the soup. On the unification of Germany, they both had strong statements, but then they pawed around and said, 'Well, we want to do what we want to do, but we don't want to make this other guy angry.'

"That tells me," Googe said, "that whatever happens with Germany's going to be a political settlement, and there won't be a loser in this. Because if there's a loser in Germany, then you probably go back to the Cold War, and no one's going to want to do that."

The question of what might lie beyond the Cold War divided the group.

Both Googe, an active unionist at defense contractor Pratt & Whitney, and Gladys Y. Cerruto, the 60-year-old chief executive of a small metal-fabricating company, said the key issue is whether the Bush-Gorbachev relationship yields a peace dividend for use at home. "I think what we really need to work on is getting the agreement so we can cut back on military spending," Cerruto said, "and using that money for education, training, for increased technology. . . . "

"Rebuilding our infrastructure and our cities and our highways," Googe chimed in. "And retraining our work force so that we can be competitive with the rest of the world."

But the peace dividend seemed ephemeral to many of these voters. "The savings and loans and the budget deficit will soak it up," said truck driver David L. Dowd, 38, and Blauvelt agreed. "Not only is there not going to be a peace dividend," Kern argued, "there's going to be a peace cost, because East Germany, the Baltic states, Panama, all of them are going to require an infusion of U.S. dollars to survive. They're expecting it."

Blauvelt said those who get help often end up resenting it. "I disagree," said Catherine M. Banbury, 50, a finance officer for United Technologies. "We put a lot of money into the Marshall Plan and built an economic base in Europe that ended up being very advantageous to the United States."

Lisa Candels, 30, an outreach worker for the Family Life Ministry, said, "My concern is that people will see Russia and China just as a place to build more McDonald's . . . to exploit them. And then they will be in the same mess as we are regarding pollution . . . with money being spent on things people don't really need and others making an awful lot of money off of those things."

"If anybody thinks that these emerging Baltic and Eastern European states are going to be a great market, they're kidding themselves," businessman Kern said. "They're bankrupt. . . . They want jobs. Essentially, they want us to export our jobs. They want to sell us things; they don't want to buy things from us."

Just when the group began to be depressed about the emerging shape of the post-Cold War world, Earl Shepherd offered a more hopeful consensus:

"I think it presents really an opportunity for us to get our house in order . . . to decide where we want to go, who we are, how we're going to do it in the next century. If we maintain that kind of focus, that we need to begin to look at ourselves and really form the new directions for the future, then I think we might be okay. If we begin saying, 'Well, we're one up on them, or we're two up on them,' I think we're missing the boat. I think it's an opportunity. It's not a solution."

Researcher Bruce Brown organized the focus group with news aide Tom Hetlage. Bureau reports came from special correspondents Laurie Goodstein in New York, Lauren Ina in Chicago, Mary Jacoby in Austin and Jill Walker in Los Angeles.