To the nation's arms-makers, the difference between having Jimmy Carter in the White House and Ronald Reagan is but a few months. A few months is how long weapons-industry analysts think it would take a Carter defense budget to the pumped up to what a Reagan defense budget would be.
How high the military will rate in the next presidential budget is moot. Both major party candidates have promised higher defense spedning; Reagan gives it more emphasis than Carter. But those who are investing their money in the prospect aren't counting their fortunes by either possible president.
"Congress, the Senate in particular, has wrested defense policy" from the President, says Paul Nesbit of the Washington Analysis Corporation. Others inside the arms-building business agree.
And the outlook for the post-election Senate is defense oriented.
Mr. Nesbit, a premier financial analyst of the defense industry, has just completed a study of what November's results will mean to defense contractors. His findings hint at the future of American armaments in the nexty few years.
"IF Reagan's elected," Mr. Nesbit says, "there will be essential agreement. If not, then Congress may find it necessary to do much what they've done this year." That is, beef up the President's defense outlays when the budget comes before Congress.
In Mr. Nesbit's view, Carter would be in no position to veto a Senate boost in defense spending. "Public opinion won't allow it," especially in view of concern over Middle East turmoil. Carter probably will want to ratify SALT II, and to do so needs to show solid defense base.
Although stock in defense companies tends to drop with Reagan's election outlook, this, Nesbit believes, is only a short-term effect -- a matter of months.
With either man as president, Nesbit looks for around a 10 percent increase in money spent on weapons procurement and on research and development, a boost that will translate into a "big growth in backlog" for defense firms by 1982.