Results of a Louis Harris poll released yesterday show that football is widening the gap on baseball and other sports as the nation's most followed and favorite sport.

According to the survey, 70 per cent of the country's sports fans say they follow football, compared with 54 per cent named football as their favorite sport, compared with 16 per cent for baseball.

The survey of 1,259 adults nationwide was made, it should be noted, at the peak of the college-football season-during the major bowl games - and just before the Super Bowl.

Last July, in the middle of the baseball season, baseball surpassed football in popularity for the first time since 1968 by a 61 per cent to 60 per cent margin. But it still trailed football as the favorite sport by a 22 to 21 per cent margin.

"It is no surprise that interest in different sports shifts from season to season," the survey report said, "but these latest findings indicate a greater seasonal swing than has been the case in previous years.

"This may be an indication that the country's two top sports will have to fight during their respective seasons to hold on to the loyalty of their old fans and develop the interest of new ones."

The survey results also showed a "striking gain" for soccer, when is now followed by 14 per cent of the fans, compared with 7 per cent last July.

"This result points to the likelihood of further dramatic gains for soccer when its new season begins next spring," the survey report said. The gain is even more impressive because it is "highly unusual for a sport to gain in popularity during its off season."

While those who followed basketball increased from 39 to 42 per cent between July and January, those who named it as their favorite sport decreased from 9 to 8 per cent.

According to the Harris poll, the drop "may be a reflection of the growing violence in basketball and the aversion of many fans to such behavior."

Horse racing dropped in popularity, from 22 to 18 per cent, and in the number who named it as their favorite sport, from 4 to 2 per cent.

The number of those who follow tennis rose slightly, from 30 to 31 per cent, but the number of those naming it as their favorite sport remained 6 per cent.