Washington — President Carter returns home to find the public giving him what amounts to a no-confidence vote, according to opinion polls. And this time even some of Mr. Carter's top aides are wondering privately if he can pull himself out of this nose dive -- particularly when the recession continues to deepen, and, as in Venice, there are no Carter victories abroad that might renew public support.
The view of President Carter today -- as reflected in polls and in reporters' findings -- takes on these somber aspects:
* Only a small percentage of the public -- about one-third and dropping -- approves of how the President is handling his job.
That's down where Mr. Carter was at one point last summer -- and a low from which he did not recover before the seizure of the hostages in Iran, when Americans rallied behind their President.
* Even though inflation seems to be slowing, there is no evidence yet that these modest gains against rising prices are reshaping the widespread negative perception of the President.
Instead, disgruntled feeling over the flagging economy -- and over the President's inability to solve this problem -- now centers on the rapid increase in joblessness.
But above all, the public seems to feel that Mr. Carter has been indecisive, unpresidential in dealing with the economy.
Recently economist Walter Heller told the President that "unemployment is going to reach its peak on Election Day." Mr. Carter could only reply with a shrug of his shoulders and a quip.
* Most significant is evidence that Americans seem not to trust Mr. Carter as much as they once did.
Through his ups and downs in public opinion in the past there has been one persistent plus for the President: His high trust rating.
But this, too, is fading, with more and more people saying now they can no longer rely on the President's doing -- or at least trying to do -- what he has promised.
Administration supporters believe the President's credibility will resurge -- once Mr. Carter takes to the campaign trail with vigor and people begin to view him up close again.
* But the chief fault that the public is finding now in the President lies in a growing perception that he is a weak leader.
People seem to be saying that:
The President isn't up to dealing with Congress -- and that this makes it impossible for him to get his important programs through.
He is so ineffective that he is helping to lower the standing of the US with people and leaders abroad.
Mr. Carter, it is repeatedly said -- often with regret -- simply isn't up to the job.