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The vacillations in the polls make most opinion analysts and political scientists leery about how the current campaigns and their various pitches will affect the voters. Traditionally, of course, a majority of postwar voters have turned to the Democratic candidates during a time of economic recession or depression on the theory that the party of F.D.R. is more likely to use Government tools to check the decline. But now a Democratic President is presiding over high inflation and a recession. Simultaneously, Government intervention in the economy has become more suspect. Observes M.I.T. Political Scientist Thomas Ferguson: "The signals coming down to the voters are incredibly mixed. There is an enormous amount of confusion even in the political parties. There is turmoil at all sectors of the electorate."
Appearing on a panel of pollsters convened in Washington by the American Political Science Association, Warren Mitofsky of CBS News's election and survey unit contended that the issues carry little weight with voters intent on examining the character of the candidates. Said he: "We are really seeing a loss of respect for our system of selecting our elective officials." This disenchantment with the candidates is causing voters to look at the personalities rather than the issues.
In a moment of rare introspection for a presidential candidate, Anderson last week talked at length to TIME Correspondent Eileen Shields during a flight from Detroit to Washington about the dilemma posed by the nature of the political process in 1980. "I have a fundamental conflict in my thinking that troubles me deeply," he said. "I know if I want to please a crowd I repeat, just as Reagan does, the tried-and-true crowd-pleasers over and over again. But I am really going to repeat in my prayers every night the hope that I can resist the temptation. You know, when Carter and Reagan are so vulnerable it is hard to resist the temptation. But I don't think that is what the campaign should be aboutor what the country wants.
"I can't in the end really sell myself to the country if I am just going around knocking those two. I've got to have something fresh, constructive and different to offer, and it is hard. It is so hard to stay off that other kick, particularly when Reagan shoots four out of five toes as he has done the last couple of weeks. I am not contemptuous of applause. I want people to listen. I want them to respond. I want to inspire them. But I would hope that I have a higher calling than to simply play to the lowest common denominator."
Still, conceded Anderson, "we are like performers. You're up and you're down. Sometimes you think of something and it inspires you and sometimes you look at your watch and you are not so inspired."
More than the other candidates, Anderson can move an audience with his oratory one day, only to turn off his next crowd with a ponderous and even pontificating style of delivery.