John B. Anderson's appearance in last Sunday's debate with Ronald Reagan apparently didn't help his independent presidential candidacy.
That is the emerging consensus from a series of national polls taken in the days after the debate with the GOP presidential candidate, which Anderson had hoped would give his candidacy a boost.
But the polls indicate that Anderson's level of support has not changed since the nationally televised debate, and he remains far behind President Carter and Reagan, who gained somewhat from the debate.
The polls also suggest that Carter's refusal to take part in the debate -- a gamble calculated to diminish the event's importance and minimize the potential damage of Anderson -- has paid off, least in the short run.
A poll to be published in this week's edition of Newsweek magazine, for example, shows Reagan beating Carter by 39 to 35 percent, with Anderson in a week third with only 14 percent -- approximately the same level of support Anderson has drawn in a series of polls taken since early August.
The poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday by the George Gallup organization, found more people had turned against Anderson as a result of watching the debate than he had won over. Thirty-five percent of those polled said they were more inclined to vote against Anderson after watching the debate; 26 percent said they were more inclined to vote for him.
Reagan fared slightly better -- 33 percent said they were more likely to vote for him after the debate than before; 30 percent were less likely.
Anderson also is losing the overwhelming public support he once enjoyed for being included in future debates. The poll found 44 percent of the public thinks the Illinois congressman should be included in any presidential debates, a far cry from the 71 percent support he once enjoyed.
The Anderson campaign had assumed that any debate would boost their candidate's standing in the national polls. The Newsweek poll and similar findings in a NBC-Associated Press poll and a CBS-New York Times poll baffled Anderson aides as the campaign moved across New England today.
"I can't explain why he hasn't moved," said press secretary Tom Mathews. "Maybe the American people can't take the truth. Maybe it really hasn't sunk in yet that the country is in real trouble."
Anderson, in recent days, has taken to talking about "the tyranny of polls" and urging people to ignore them. He also has gone out of his way to deny published accounts that key associates have decided he no longer has a chance of winning the presidency.
"I'm convinced there will come a turning point in this campaign," he said in Cleveland Friday. "Obviously, we haven't reached it yet, but I'm not discouraged." Today, he added, "People haven't fully seized the idea that I can win . . . these things take time."
But some discouragement was noticeable among Anderson supporters in key states. "Our vote is still among the better-educated, the 25s-to-45s, the college students and faculties, and the young marrieds," said Jane Fowler, his Pennsylvania coordinator. "I'd like to say that we're working in all the blue-collar areas . . . but it's not the case."
In Anderson's home state of Illinois, a newspaper poll showed him running third in his own congressional district. There are 13 Anderson headquarters open around the state, but Sheldon Gardner, the state chairman, said, "The last few weeks, we've been ordered to use our volunteers to raise money, not organize."
Ray McDonald, the Anderson chairman in suburban DuPage County and a nuclear engineer, said, "It's a pretty bare-bones campaign. The ground-swell hasn't started yet, and it's pretty clear that anything that is going to happen will have to happen at the national media level. We can't make big inroads by ourselves."
The congressman has tried to counter the poll results with an announcement that his campaign has received informal loan assistance from two banks and by reciting the findings of other, more favorable, polls.
Anderson supporters have been trying to negotiate a multimillion-dollar loan for weeks without success. It is vital to his financially strapped campaign, for without the loan he will be unable to finance any television commercials.
Anderson began campaigning this morning before a student audience at the University of Maine in Orono, flew here to Burlington where he addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 on the city hall steps overlooking beautiful Lake Champlain, and ended the day in Boston. Skies were crystal clear, the air delightfully crisp, and the hills of New England were just beginning to show the rich red and yellow shades of autumn.
He was exuberant, returning to the states where he first came into national prominence during last winter's Republican primaries. And the crowds were large and responsive.
When one reporter asked Anderson why he would not be campaigning Sunday, Anderson grew visibly angry and snapped, "Would you begrudge me one day [of rest] out of seven?"
Then his face broke into a wide grin and he added, "Besides, the Redskins are playing tomorrow in Washington and I want to see a football game."