Lower-middle-income voters of Dallas County Precinct 267, beleaguered by rising food and fuel costs, would still vote for Jimmy Carter today but are losing hope he really will help them or, indeed, is much different from other politicians.
"It seems to me like everything's just the same as it was before he was elected," the 26-year-old wife of a home-insulation installer told us. Would she vote for Carter or for former President Ford if the election were held again today? After an embarrassingly long pause, she replied: "Carter - I guess."
That typifies interviews with 57 registered voters in Mesquite's Precinct 267, conducted with the help of Patrick Caddell's Cambridge Survey Research. A blue-collar neighborhood of young married couples (median voter age, 34; median income, $13,287), this precinct was carried narrowly by Carter last year after supporting Republicans in recent presidential elections.
While 40 of our 57 voters said they voted for Carter last year, only 36 would today. Since this includes two 1976 Ford voters switching to the President, six Carter voters have defeated. That is no dramatic reversal, but it hints of trouble among Southern white workers essential to Jimmy Carter's election.
The 1977 disillusionment with Carter, just as the 1976 support for him, is tied to a deep public longing for a leader who can help these people. "I thought he would be a more forceful leader," said the 51-year-old wife of a retired factory foreman, who adds she would vote for Ford today. "I don't know of anything he's done that he said he would," a 33-year-old machinist told us. This Carter voter does not know whom he would vote for today.
These few switches are the tip of the iceberg. Many loyalist Carterites are less than happy. A young salesman, a self-described conservative Democrat like many voters here, opposes the Panama Canal treaties "because the Communists would take over," resents "amnesty for draft dodgers" and complains "Carter hasn't done that much." Nevertheless, he would vote for the President again.
This loyalty can be explained partly by Carter's continued personal popularity. These voters give him a 67 per cent favorable rating. In contrast these voters rated Carter's performance as President at only 52 per cent favorable.
Anemic though this overall rating is, it is healthier than these voters' view of the President's approach to specific problems. While approving the way he handles unemployment, they are evenly split over Carter's approach to the Middle East and the Soviet Union. But they disapprove of his efforts on inflation (by 2 to 1) and energy.
Significantly, these interconnected issues - inflation and energy - most disturb the young wage earners of Precinct 267. The plush skyscrapers of Dallas to the west, 15 minutes away on the freeway, are a world removed from these modest homes where not even combined salaries of husband and wife can cover rising food prices and utility costs. Thus, when only 16 voters favored the Carter energy plan, they were giving the President "no-confidence" on the issue that bothers them most.
Unlike the Dallas corporate executives, these Mesquite voters are opposed to natural-gas deregulation by 3 to 2. But despite Carter's prolonged attack against deregulation, 25 voters were unsure of his position, 17 thought he favored deregulation and only 16 believed he opposed it. This astonishingly fuzzy perception can perhaps be explained partly by candidate Carter's support for deregulation.
Carter's mistake in Mesquite is traceable to the Panama treaties, with voters opposing them nearly 2 to 1. The canal question was volunteered by seven voters as Carter's worst act as President; no other issue was mentioned negatively by more than two voters.
Jimmy Carter's status in Precinct 267 emerges clearly in the attitude of one 1976 Ford voter who supports Carter today. "I guess I've been satisfied with Carter so far for at least trying," the young wife of a customer-service operator told us. But she could think of no action by Carter she liked, opposed his energy plan and denounced the Panama Canal treaties in Reaganesque language: "I feel we built it; it's ours after all these years we took care of it." How long such voters will continue to support the President seems highly doubtful.
We regret our error in placing the locale of Hamilton Jordan's recent meeting with Senate aides in the White House instead of Capitol Hill, where in fact it took place, and describing it as "recent" instead of one month ago. But on the substance of our report, we have rechecked our sources and stand firmly behind our statement that on that occasion Mr. Jordan said, as we put it, that "only two cabinet members . . . are worth much - Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus and Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland."