The NBC poll, which questioned voters leaving polling places yesterday, found a 62-34 per cent margin for Carter among voters with family incomes less than $10,000 a year and a 51-47 per cent edge for the Democrat among voters whose family earns between $10,000 and $25,000 annually. Among voters with incomes higher than this Ford led by a wide margin: 57 per cent to 41.
Ford's strong showing in the popular vote, however, indicates that the obituaries for the Republican party penned after the Kansas City convention were premature.
Even with its recent setbacks--the impeachment proceedings, a high unemployment rate, a divisive and a hotly contested nomination struggle--the GOP was able to garner nearly half of the vote.
Its continued vitality can be attributed at least in part to shifting occupational trends in the U.S. Carter was able to hold together the New Deal coalition of blacks, trade-union members and the South. But that bloc, which in 1936 accounted for 60 per cent of the voting public, now amounts to only 43 per cent of the electorate.
Concomittantly, there has been continuous growth in the white-collar sectors of the economy. These voters, so far unorganized into unions, tend to be more concerned about inflation than they are about unemployment and social welfare programs.
It was this group that Nixon was able to mobilize so effectively in his 1972 6 per cent landslide.
The candidacy of former Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy did not injure Carter as much as some of the former Georgia governor's supporters had feared. McCarthy claimed that he would appeal to people who do not ordinarily vote, and that appears to have been an accurate prediction.
Sen. Walter F. Mondale (D-Minn.) helped his ticket more than Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) did his. Dole's comments in the vice-presidential debates on World War II being a "Democrat" war hurt, as did a more general perception of Dole as a politician in the sinister Nixon mode. Mondale also aided Carter in carrying Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Ford's surge in the polls peaked a bit too early. Polls released before the weekend showed the race a virtual dead heat, and for the first time in the campaign, voters were forced to ask themselves if they wanted four more years of a Republican administration.
The answer was no. An NBC poll showed that of people who had not made up their minds before election day, 67 per cent went for Carter.
The closeness of the pre-election day polls probably also encouraged a high voter turnout, which tends to give an advantage to the Democrats.
As Ford closed the gap, it is possible that the public's perception of the two candidates shifted. In the final days, Ford seemed stiff and contentious, not at all matching the easygoing "good Joe" image he had tried to project.
Many Democrats had feared that Carter would crack under the pressure of the campaign. But as his lead dwindled, Carter seemed thoughtful and humble.
A particularly tense moment came on Sunday, when a black minister confronted the church elders at Carter's congregation in Plains asking permission to attend services there. The elders decided to cancel the services.
Carter handled the incident, which could have adversely affected his performance in black precincts on Tuesday, with aplomb. Carter said he would not quit the church but rather would stay and "try to change an attitude that I abhor."
Black voters apparently bought his explanation. Yesterday, they made him president