Washington — There are growing indications that presidential candidate John Anderson's support is waning and that the chief beneficiary at this point is Ronald Reagan, not Jimmy Carter.
This assessment comes not only from Mr. Reagan and national pollsters but also from the President's No. 1 pollster, Pat Caddell, who sees the shift taking place in the nation's suburbs.
Overall, Mr. Caddell cited Carter gains, particularly in the South. And he calls the race "very tight -- in the state-by-state count as well as in the national surveys."
Caddell says he believes, too, that as Mr. Anderson's rating falls, Carter will become the chief beneficiary as Kennedy liberals now backing the Illinois congressman return to the Democratic Party and vote for the President.
But to observers who believe that the suburbs of the United States will be one of the main battlegrounds -- even more decisive than the urban vote in many instances -- the Caddell admission that Reagan was picking up suburban steam hold much significance.
Political leaders, in conversations with the Monitor in recent days, have underscored the shift in suburban support from Anderson to Reagan. This shift has been noted particularly in Illinois, where Anderson had been cutting deeply into the Republican vote -- at the expense of Reagan and to Carter's benefit.
Caddell - over breakfast with reporters Sept. 30 -- said the Anderson-to-Reagan movement apparent in Illinois also appears in other suburbs around the US.
"Carter is doing less well in the suburbs," said Caddell, "because of Anderson's falling off. It is hurting us, in the main."
But Caddell said there are initial signs that Carter may benefit from Anderson's decline in the Northern industrial states.
"As voters start to focus on the election," he said, "the majority of them will support the incumbent President. We saw that in the final weeks of the election in 1976."
Caddell sees the race this year "just about the same" in terms of how difficult it is as the one four years ago. "And I'd much rather be with an incumbent," he said.
The decline in Anderson support in the suburbs has been significant, according to several polls. The CBS-New York Times poll shows Anderson's suburban support dropping from 17 percent to 10 percent as of last week.
Worried Carter people now are asking:
* Does this trend mean that Anderson, as he drops, will -- contrary to expectations -- provide even more support for Reagan?
* Will the President be defeated because many liberals failed to vote for him while independents and moderate Republicans moved in potent force away from Anderson and toward Reagan?
Within the Reagan camp the suburban vote is a prime target -- and it seems clear that the special attention Reagan workers have given to the suburbs now is paying off.