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President Who?

CEOs love Bush, are cool to Dukakis, and loathe Jackson.

George Bush may trail Michael Dukakis in the general opinion polls, but among the nation’s chief executives and presidents, he’s favored better than 12 to one. More than four-out-of-five even believe he will actually be elected in November. Only 17 percent think Dukakis will be elected.

Chief Executive asked its readers to rank 11 political contenders, nine who actively sought their party’s nomination, and two would-be Hamlets-Bill Bradley and Mario Cuomo-who hovered in the shadows. CEOs think Bush (by a wide margin), and Dole best understand the problems of business and industry; Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson are viewed as having virtually no understanding. Among Democrats, Bradley scores better on this issue than Dukakis, who in turn, is stronger than Cuomo.

The nationwide survey tallied responses from 1,642 readers. A third were CEOs or presidents of small companies ($1-$49 million in annual sales), 47percent represented mid-size companies ($50-$499 million, and 19 percent represented large corporations ($500 million and over). Just over 10 percent of those who support Bush anticipate a Dukakis victory in November, whereas 35 percent of Dukakis supporters see Bush winning. Do CEOs sense something that the pollsters don’t?

Concerning foreign policy, Bush scores best by far (even 30 percent who prefer Dukakis agree). Dole is a distant second and Bradley, who is viewed as more capable than either Dukakis or Cuomo, remains overshadowed by both Republicans.

In a comparable Chief Executive Presidential survey in 1984, CEOs gave Jackson almost identically high scores for unscrupulousness and naivete, but in 1984 Gary Hart was viewed as most naive. In 1980, CEOs gave Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter top honors in these areas. Interestingly, Bush was considered the most capable presidential contender by CEOs during the 1980 campaign, easily outranking Ronald Reagan and John Connally.

Readers rank the budget deficit (70 percent) among nine listed issues as the single most important concern that ought to be addressed in the forthcoming campaign. Trade (7 percent) and international competitiveness (7 percent) rank a distant second.

Bush’s relative support is strongest among chiefs of large companies. Dukakis’ support is relatively stronger among CEOs of small companies. In this, as well as CE’s Presidential surveys in 1980 and 1984, there is a high correlation between a CEOs support and the level of honesty he perceives in a candidate-even more than capability and strength. In 1980, CEOs thought John Connally was the strongest and most capable contender, but favored Ronald Reagan who scored as most honest. The level of perceived honesty among a given politician’s supporter (those who would most like to see him be President) was highest among Bradley supporters (76 percent), and lowest among Cuomo supporters (38 percent). New York’s Jack Kemp, who is perhaps a Republican hopeful for 1992 or 1996 ranks higher (59 percent) in this area than George Bush (51 percent).

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