In Washington, President Bush may be tangled in problems with appointments and ethics. But beyond the capital, a majority of Americans say they like the way he is doing his job, according to the New York Times-CBS News Poll.

Bush received a 61 percent approval rating for his first month in office, higher than the 55 percent President Reagan won in the Gallup Poll for his presidential debut.Only 9 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of the fledgling Bush administration, half as many as said that of Reagan after his first month in office.

Negative opinions of Bush were also much lower than those recorded for Reagan as he left office last month. At that time 26 percent disapproved of Reagan and 68 percent approved. Both polls had margins of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Those groups that expressed the highest levels of dissatisfaction with Reagan when he left office - women, blacks, the elderly, Democrats and the poor - do not regard Bush as unfavorably.

Instead, as the Feb. 18-19 poll of 1,233 adults and later follow-up interviews showed, they seem to be reserving judgment until they see if he acts on his promises to help the disadvantaged and the disfranchised.

For example, while 52 percent of blacks disapproved of Reagan and 40 percent approved, only 16 percent disapproved of Bush in the new poll, while 47 percent approved.

"He's a wait-and-see thing," said Jesse White, 35, a nurse in Kissimmee, Fla. "When Reagan came on TV, my TV instantly went off. I watch Bush."

The poll was completed before the Senate Armed Services Committee voted against the nomination of John Tower to be defense secretary, and included no questions about him.

Some of those who disapprove of Bush's performance said he "shoots from the hip" too much, and they cited his problems with the dispute over a savings and loan deposit fee and his support of the pay increase for Congress.

Barbara Bush, by contrast, was widely praised as prodding her husband's social conscience and for her natural Yankee style, described by Neal Gray of Franklin, Pa., as "conservative savoir-faire."

"If you're country, you're country," said David Cameron, an upholsterer from Morristown, Tenn., "If you're rich, you're rich; if you're poor, you're poor. And Barbara is just Barbara, ain't she?"

Even Harold Hoehner of Salt Lake City, 60, a Democrat who thinks Bush "hasn't done a darned thing," had something good to say about the first lady: "I think Mrs. Bush could probably do a better job than her husband."