Four days after George Bush won a presidential campaign in which the phrase, "read my lips: no new taxes," was his most memorable slogan, The Washington Post polled voters across the nation to see if they believed him.

Sixty-seven percent said they did not.

Such deep public skepticism usually poses a problem for a politician, but yesterday Bush's political advisers were counting on it to shield the president from what they acknowledged will be "24 hours of political hell" following his statement opening the door to new taxes.

"There will be much less impact than you think," said one senior GOP strategist. "Most polls showed that voters doubted Bush could keep his pledge; most voters still think that everything being equal, Republicans would be the last to raise taxes and Democrats the first."

"This will not be as big a deal with the voters as it is with the media and some of the politicians in Washington," a key Bush adviser added. "All of us here think the single most important thing for Republican control of the White House is the state of the economy. All of us are of the view that the best thing that the president can do is to ensure a strong economy."

Within the president's party, this view was far from unanimous. Rep. Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.) called the announcement "terrible," Rep. Bill Scheutte (R-Mich.) said he was "deeply disappointed {and} absolutely opposed" to it and Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.) described it as "an idea whose time has not come." All three are running for the Senate against Democratic incumbents this fall, and all sought to distance themselves from Bush on the issue.

Martin attributed Bush's new stance on taxes to the cost of the savings and loan cleanup, which she predicted will only make people more angry. "It's like going to the grocery store. The prices are up and you come home with an empty bag," she said.

Democratic strategists were gleeful about the Bush statement.

"Circumstances have brought the president to the point where Republicans will have to give up the most powerful political and rhetorical hammer they've had for the last decade," said longtime Democratic strategist Thomas Donilon.

"President Bush tried to fool the voters in 1988 about taxes, but he and GOP congressional candidates can no longer demagogue on this issue," said Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Bush, he added, had been "finally backed . . . into a well-deserved corner."

"A lot of Republican candidates are going to have to wake up tomorrow morning and find another reason for running for office," said Michael McCurry, communications director of the Democratic National Committee.

Some Democrats had praise for the president, and others speculated that the political fallout would not be all bad for him. "He was faced with the prospect of the collapse of the budget talks, and he did the right thing for the country, as opposed to the right short-term political thing," said Richard Moe, a Democratic policy adviser. "You have to give him credit. It is one of the few times he has actually led." Moe added that in the long term, the best policy may be the best politics. "He has decided to front-end the pain. He may strengthen himself for 1992."

Democratic pollster Peter Hart echoed the views of many of Bush's advisers. "I take the contrarian point of view for Democrats, which is that if this helps him deliver a better economy, people won't remember the 'read my lips,' " Hart said.

Not surprisingly, conservatives were the most aggrieved group on the political spectrum. "Read my lips: Bush blew it," said Richard Viguerie, chairman of United Conservatives of America. "This essentially guarantees a conservative challenge to Bush in 1992."

"Now that communism is no longer a big issue, taxes were really the party's principal rationale," said Dan Mitchell, an economist at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "What are they going to turn to? I am not sure they are going win a lot of elections on the flag amendment."

Staff writer Ann Devroy contributed to this report.