Despite the fact that Democrat Michael Dukakis has a slight lead in the polls over Republican George Bush, both Dukakis and the Democratic leadership have more to worry about than Jesse Jackson and party unity.

As the Democratic Party holds its national convention this week in Atlanta, party leaders must pay particular attention to GOP gains in public perception on two important campaign issues - peace and prosperity.Since May of this year, the Republican Party has made substantial gains with regard to the number of Americans who view it as the party more likely to keep the country prosperous and out of war. Nevertheless, the Republicans will have their work cut out for them in retaining the White House this November. One of the biggest problems for Bush in this regard is that he is not yet benefiting from Ronald Reagan's widespread popularity. Also, compared to Dukakis, Bush is perceived by more voters as holding views very different from their own on most issues. The survey results are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 registered voters nationwide conducted during the period of July 8-10, 1988.

Although voter perceptions of the two major parties can change rather dramatically as a consequence of important news events, the Republican party has nonetheless made significant gains in the number of voters who believe the Republicans would be better able to keep the country out of war.

Just two months ago, in May of this year, voters were more likely to say the Democrats would be better than the Republicans at keeping the country at peace (39 percent vs. 31 percent). However, results from the present poll show an 8 percentage point increase in the proportion of voters who say the Republicans would be better able to keep the country out of war.

Thirty-nine percent of all voters now believe the Republicans are better suited to this task, compared to a similar proportion of voters who believe this would be true of the Democrats (36 percent).

The Republicans have also made important gains in voter perceptions as the party better able to produce a flourishing national economy. In May of this year, almost equal proportions of the electorate thought the Republicans (41 percent) and the Democrats (39 percent) would be better able to keep the country prosperous.

In the current poll, however, voters are more likely to say the Republicans are better able to keep the country prosperous, with slightly fewer than one half (46 percent) of all voters holding this view. In contrast, only 39 percent of all voters believe the Democrats will do a better job in this regard.

Moreover, the proportion of voters believing the Democratic party is better able to produce a flourishing economy has remained virtually unchanged over the past several months, with results from the latest survey and one conducted in May showing an identical proportion (39 percent) of voters thinking the Democrats are better able to keep the country prosperous.

The Republican Party also has an advantage over the Democrats in voter perceptions regarding which is the better-organized party. Two out of every five voters (46 percent) think the Republican Party is better described by the phrase "Is well organized," compared to only 30 percent who believe this phrase better describes the Democrats.

Voter opinion regarding the better-organized party differs according to such basic demographic characteristics as sex and race. Men, for example, are more likely than women to say the Republicans are well-organized, (58 percent vs 35 percent). Similarly, whites are more likely than non-whites, who include blacks and Hispanics, to say the Republicans are well-organized (50 percent vs 28 percent), while the inverse is true of non-whites.

The Democrats are more likely to be perceived as the party of change. A plurality (44 percent) of the electorate believes the Democrats can bring about changes the country needs, while a comparatively smaller proportion (37 percent) believe this is true of the Republicans. Here again, voter opinion regarding the party most capable of bringing about change differs according to both sex and race, with men more likely than women to think the Republicans can bring about changes the country needs (45 percent vs 30 percent).

In addition, whites are more likely than non-whites to hold this view of the Republican Party, with 41 percent of all white voters saying they think the Republicans can bring about changes the country needs, compared to only 15 percent of non-whites.

Both the Republican and the Democratic parties are seen as good managers. Similar proportions of voters think the Republicans (42 percent) and the Democrats (38 percent) are able to manage government well. As was the case in voter perceptions of party organization and the ability to bring about change, the gender gap and strong racial differences are apparent in voter perceptions of the parties as managers. Men are more likely than women to think the Republican Party is better able to manage the government (48 percent vs 35 percent) and white voters are more likely than non-white voters to hold this view of the GOP (45 percent vs 24 percent).

When compared to the two leading presidential candidates, Dukakis and Bush, Ronald Reagan is seen by a larger proportion of the electorate as holding views very similar to their own on most issues. Nevertheless, Bush does not appear to benefit from the positive way in which voters view the President. In fact, Bush is perceived as having very different views on most issues by a larger proportion of the electorate than is Dukakis.

A plurality of voters (39 percent) rate President Reagan's views on most issues as very similar to their own. Both the gender gap and racial differences play a key role in ratings of Reagan's views on issues, with women and non-whites least likely to share the president's views.

In spite of Bush's attempts to align himself with the president, only slightly more than one-quarter (27 percent) of all voters feel Bush's views on the issues are very similar to their own, while an additional 32 percent of all voters feel the vice president's views are very different.

Moreover, as with Bush, approximately one-quarter (28 percent) of all voters rate Dukakis's views as being very similar to their own. However, Dukakis is significantly less likely than Bush to be rated by voters as having views that are very different from their own on most issues (Bush 32 percent vs Dukakis 24 percent).