President Carter's delegates to the Democratic National Convention feel that he has been good if not outstanding in office. They stand behind Carter on a wide variety of issues that divide the party. And, most importantly, they believe Carter has a strong prospect of winning in November.
These are among the key findings of a Washington Post poll of a random sample of 591 delegates. While all things are possible in politics, the clear thrust of the poll findings is that it is extremely unlikely that a dump-Carter move can succeed at the convention, which opens Monday in New York City.
The poll was conducted from July 22 to July 30, a period in which national opinion polls were showing Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan with a huge lead over Carter and when revelations about Billy Carter's dealings with Libya dominated the news.
Nevertheless, 98 percent of the delegates committed to Carter at the time of their selection told Post interviewers that they still "personally prefer" Carter as the party's nominee.
With apparent disregard for the conventional wisdom, they give Carter a far better than even chance against Reagan in the Nov. 4 election. In fact, the Carter delegates appear more positive about his chances than Reagan delegates felt about the GOP nominee's chances, as discerned in a similar Washington Post poll of delegates before the Republican convention in July.
The Carter delegates, on the whole, gave the president better than a 7-to-3 chance of beating Reagan. Earlier, the Reagan delegates appraised their candidate's odds of winning as slightly under 7 to 3.
"Carter ought to let the people know what he's done," said one New England Democratic delegate. "He's too modest."
"Take your excellent record out of the secret cabinet and tell the people all you've done as president," a California delegate advised.
"Run your campaign like Truman did in '78 -- give 'em hell," said a delegate from the state of Washington.
These sentiments are common among the 60 percent of the Democratic delegates who are pledged to support Carter but they are in sharp contrast to the anti-Carter attitudes of many delegates pledged to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
"Get out of the race and let us choose a compromise candidate," was the advice to the president from a Maryland Kennedy delegate. It was a theme voiced again and again by delegates pledged to Kennedy: many have given up on him, but they surely don't want Carter.
It is as though there are two Democratic parties, looking at two different Jimmy Carters. The animosity toward Carter, furthermore, threatens to be divisive later in the campaign, should the president be renominated.
One-third of the Kennedy delegates said they would not work for Carter's reelection, and almost that many said they would work for him only reluctantly. rOnly four in 10 of the Kennedy supporters said they would work "Enthusiastically" for Carter.
Such feelings may mellow after the convention, of course, but there is no guarantee.
In recent weeks, the new "dump Carter" move has focused on the fear that Carter is almost certain to lose in the fall and that he will drag many other Democratic candidates down to defeat.
In simplest terms, the Carter delegates profess not to believe that. According to the poll, they feel the president neither helps nor hurts other Democratic candidates. Asked to rate his "coattail effect" on candidates in their home states on a scale of zero to 10, with zero the least favorable rating an 10 the most favorable, they assigned Carter an averagde rating of 5.3, or neutral.
The Kennedy delegates, on the other hand, rate Carter's coattail effect at 2.3, a dismal score.
But there is much more that divides these convention Democrats than their feelings about how well the party will do if Carter is the nominee. The division between Carter and Kennedy delegates is over policy differences as well, over the role of government in American life.
In a series of questions on basic political issues, the Kennedy and Carter delegates are often in sharp disagreement -- almost a mirror image of each other. The Kennedy delegates overwhelmingly stand for a renewal of the Great Society programs of the 1960s and an activist government. The Carter delegates take what has been called the "fiscally responsible" position, espousing the same ultimate social goals but more cautious about government power and spending as the answers to social and economic problems.
Do they agree or disagree that "the government should see to it that every person who wants to work should have a job?" The Kennedy delegates said they agree, by 79 percent to 21 percent among those who expressed an opinion. The Carter delegates said they disagree by 55 to 45.
Do they favor wage and price controls as a means of combating inflation? The Kennedy delegates agree, by 82 percent to 18 percent, while the Carter delegates disagree 78 to 22. In both instances, the delegates lined up solidly behind the positions of the candidates they favor.
Should the government institute a national health care program now? The Kennedy delegates say yes, 92 percent to 8 percent. The Carter delegates are split down the middle, with 51 percent in favor of national health care and 49 percent against. Again, the delegates were in harmony with the differing positions of their candidates. Kennedy has urged an immediate full-scale health care program, while Carter has favored gradual implementation of one.
On other issues as well, the Carter and Kennedy delegates go in different directions, following their candidates.
The Carter delegates are more inclined to see the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a threat to U.S. national security than are the Kennedy delegates. Carter's supporters are opposed to gasoline rationing while Kennedy delegates favor it. Carter delegates are more in support of a balanced federal budget than Kennedy delegates. Carter delegates tend to favor the use of nuclear power to generate electricity while the Kennedy delegates want to stop the building of nuclear power plants.
The Carter delegates, in other words, are not pledged to Carter for political reasons only -- they are people who strongly endorse the president's position on issues. From all appearances, it would take enormous persuasion before they would be ready to give up on Carter. The Washington Post Poll HOW THE DELEGATES RATE CARTER We'd like you to rate Jimmy Carter in several areas that are important in a president. In each area, a "0" is the most unfavorable rating, a "10" is the most favorable rating, and the numbers "1" through "9" stand for ratings in between. If you feel you can't rate Carter in a particular area, please just say so. What rating would you give Carter on: (TABLE) (COLUMN)CARTER(COLUMN)KENNEDY (COLUMN)DELEGATES(COLUMN)DELEGATES His chances of beating Ronald Reagan?(COLUMN)7.3(COLUMN)4.1 Overall record as president?(COLUMN)7.5(COLUMN)3.5 Handling of foreign policy?(COLUMN)7.3(COLUMN)3.0 Handling of the Iranian hostage crisis?(COLUMN)7.9(COLUMN)2.6 Handling of the economy?(COLUMN)6.8(COLUMN)2.1 Ability to deal with Congress?(COLUMN)6.3(COLUMN)2.7 Coat-tail effect for Democratic office(COLUMN)(COLUMN) seekers in your state?(COLUMN)5.3(COLUMN)2.3(END TABLE) DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CARTER AND KENNEDY DELEGATES ON KEY ISSUES (TABLE) (COLUMN)CARTER(COLUMN)KENNEDY (COLUMN)DELEGATES(COLUMN)DELEGATES Favor wage and price control(COLUMN)22%(COLUMN)82% Favor gasoline rationing(COLUMN)22%(COLUMN)69% Favor national health care program now(COLUMN)51%(COLUMN)92% Oppose building nuclear power plants(COLUMN)38%(COLUMN)76%(END TABLE) From a Washington Post poll of 591 delegates, conducted July 22 to July 30.