Uncertainty dominates the US presidential election map. With 6 1/2 weeks to go in the race, a Monitor state-by-state electoral-vote count shows Ronald Reagan in the lead, "tossup" states outnumbering those in the Jimmy Carter column, and not a single state leaning toward John Anderson.
The Carter camp's increasing stridency -- evidenced by the President's charge Tuesday that his Republican opponent has injected hatred and racism into the campaign -- is attributed here to the realization that winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed to retain the White House is going to be a formidable challenge, indeed. The latest nationwide surveys show Carter planners some mixed and troubling trends. While a CBS-New York Times poll has the President pulling ahead of Mr. Reagan, 38 points to 35, Mr. Anderson holds on with 14 points, mostly at Carter's expense. A Gallup survey, also completed last weekend, suggests Carter's sharp rise since the Democratic convention has reached a plateau, with Reagan/Bush at 40 percent, Carter/Mondale 38 percent, and Anderson/Lucey 15 percent.
The American public may be pausing, not rushing, to make up its mind, suggests Robert Teeter, pollster for the Republican National Committee. His September nationwide sample, Mr. Teeter says, shows that the undecided vote climbed from 13 percent in June to 18 percent a week ago -- double the 8 to 10 percent he says is normal for this stage of the campaign. The shift to undecided has been at Reagan's and Anderson's expense, he says.
Meanwhile, a Monitor surveys of Carter and Reagan strategists; Republican, Democratic, and independent pollsters; and analysts gives Reagan a clear edge in the state-by-state electoral count -- 233 electoral votes either strong for or leaning toward Reagan; 172 in doubt; 123 either strong for or leaning to Carter, and none for Anderson.
Though Carter appears far shorter than Reagan of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, analysts say any campaign development, even a slight event, could easily move many states to another column.
At this state, prior to the first presidential debate, the Monitor composite count has 7 states with 54 electoral votes "strong" for Carter, 9 states with 79 electoral votes "leaning" to him. In 11 states with 172 electoral votes, the edge is claimed by both sides, voter views are not yet clearly plumbed, or the contests are too close to call. Nine states with 52 electoral votes are strong for Reagan, and 17 states with 182 electoral votes are leaning his way.
Though the experts' assessments of individual states vary, their overall counts show similar patterns.
Michael Barone, strategist with Peter A. Hart's Democratic polling firm, gives 121 electoral votes to Carter, puts 183 in doubt, and gives 234 to Reagan at this point in the campaign.
Mervin Field, independent West Coast pollster, gives Carter 199 leaning or strong, Reagan 244, with 95 in doubt. He adds, however, a "slippable" category to his tallies which could quickly swell the doubtful total. He sees New York and Michigan's 62 electoral votes as easily slipping away from Carter's "leaning" column, where he puts them now. And he says the total of 77 votes in Illinois, Ohio, and Texas could quickly abandon Reagan.
In the West, Mr. Field would put both Oregon and Washington in the doubtful column, while Messrs. Barone and Teeter count the two states in the Reagan colomn for the moment.
In the Midwest, Teeter and Barone have Missouri in doubt, while others count the state strong for Carter. Barone also has Ohio in doubt, while Teeter and Field call it Reagan's.
In the south, Barone sees all four "oil states" -- Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana , Mississippi -- leaning to Reagan. Teeter agrees. But Carter strategists claim at least Louisiana and Mississippi, which Field and other analysts label in doubt.
Miami unhappiness over the Cuban issue has put Florida at least into the doubtful category, if not into Reagan's hands. Elsewhere in the South, Carter is holding his native base.
In the Northeast, the crucial cluster of industrial states -- New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey -- appears up for grabs. Anderson's presence on the ballot, even if his support is cut by half or more by election day, could loose these states from their 1976 Democratic moorings, the analysts agree. And Connecticut, too, could go into the GOP column, as it did in 1976.
Richard Scammon, director of the Elections Research Center, says, "my count now would show no candidate with 270 votes, and the big block still in the middle -- a tossup.
"The race is definitely not in "the stretch' yet," Mr. Scammon says. "The stretch starts when a gap opens -- five points or more, and as yet there is no statistical gap. The stretch is really on attitude. It could start the 15th of October, or the last weekend" before the Nov. 4 election.
Scammon calls six of the largest states, with a total of 162 electoral votes, tossups -- New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Texas. The 83 electoral votes of Michigan (leaning Carter, according to Scammon), Florida, and California (both leaning Reagan, he says) could also be tossups, the analyst believes.
Alan Baron, editor of a Washington political newsletter, says the margins of victory in key states have been so small and the candidates are running so even that the race is very much in doubt. Since 1960, he says, the widest margin for Illinois and California was 1 percent, the next widest one-half a percent, the rest still smaller.
Despite the electoral count favoring Reagan, Mr. Baron says: "If I had to bet a nickel, I'd bet on Jimmy Carter."
Michael Barone of the Hart organization calls it differently: "I see Reagan ahead -- unless he boots it.
But he adds that Carter has potential to secure his following. For example, he can hold his 1976 coalition between blacks and blue-collar workers in the South -- the positive side to his allegation of Reagan racism.
"He's stressing the 'we're all of Southern origins' theme," Barone says. "He's the symbol of reunification of black and white in the South. He ratified a permanent change of attitudes in the South, and Southerners feel a sense of pride."
Electoral vote estimates Strong Leaning Leaning Strong Carter Carter Undecided Reagan Reagan Minn. 10 Ala. 9 Wash. 9 Ore. 6 Alaska 3 Ark. 6 Tenn. 10 Wis. 11 Calif. Idaho 4 Ga. 12 Ky. 9 Mich. 21 Mont. 4 Utah 4 N.C. 13 S.C. 8 Pa. 27 N.D. 3 Ariz. 6 W.Va. 6 Md. 10 N.Y. 17 Colo. 7 Neb. 5 R.I. 4 Del. 3 Conn. 8 N.M. 4 Kan. 7 D.C. 3 Mass. 14 Conn. 8 N.M. 4 Kan. 7 Total 54 Hawaii 4 Maine 4 Okla. 8 Ind. 13 Total 79 La. 10 Iowa 8 Miss. 7 Ill. 26 Total 172 Ohio 25 Va. 12 Vt. 3 N.H. 4 Nev. 3 Total 188 538 total electoral votes 270 needed to win