The Mood of the Voter

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The survey pinpoints one group of voters still posing a considerable problem for Carter: the former followers of Senator Edward Kennedy. Despite the efforts at the Democratic National Convention to patch up the party's deep rift and Kennedy's later pledges of support for Carter, the Senator's followers now split three ways on what they intend to do: 39% say they will back Carter; 28% prefer Anderson; a surprising 22% are disaffected that they say they will ump over the wall and vote for Reagan. That degree of party defection could cripple the Carter candidacy. The mood could well be, however, just a passing stage of postconvention blues.

While the Kennedy problem lingers for Carter, the Anderson difference so confidently proclaimed by the earnest and stubborn Congressman from Illinois has not really faded either. If Anderson were to drop out, 37% of his present share of the voters say they would switch to Carter, 28% would go to Reagan and 26% claim they would not vote at all. With Anderson out, Carter narrowly leads Reagan in the nationwide popular vote, 44.5% to 43%. However, the sampling did not examine just how Anderson's presence, or withdrawal, would affect the electoral college vote. Anderson has scored 20% or higher in key states, such as New York, California and Massachusetts.

One of the most dramatic findings of the survey came from a more indirect probing of voter sentiment—and it looks potentially helpful to Carter. In the survey's "state of the nation" indicator, which measures how people feel about the way things are going in the country in general and how much confidence they have in the future, voters are becoming increasingly optimistic. While only 11% took a positive view of the nation's well-being in May, 21% are upbeat now. As the incumbent, Carter would presumably benefit from any continued upsurge in optimism, which seems centered on a belief that the economy may be revving up again.

While nearly all the polls have found that the economy ranks first as an issue, well ahead of foreign affairs, the TIME study finds that, surprisingly, neither has much impact on voter preferences for the presidential candidates. Many polls reveal the voters are thoroughly confused when asked to make judgments about the candidates on most issues; the election seems much more likely to turn on personality than on policy, notes TIME National Political Correspondent John Stacks. One intriguing but as yet unexplained phenomenon that might be linked to issues is Yankelovich's discovery that 10% more women prefer Carter than Reagan. This is balanced, however, by Reagan's 10% edge among men.

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