The Launching of the Carter Administration: Beginning Initiatives
Carter and his running mate, Walter Mondale, won the election by the rather slim margin of 50.1% to 48.0%, and while the number of votes cast broke a record by some 4 million over the 1972 election, the turnout rate at 54.4% was the lowest since the 1948 election. As might be expected, Carter carried the South and East, while Ford captured the West and Midwest. These data help to reinforce the supposition that this presidential campaign elicited little excitement and lacked the type of issues that would galvanize the public to express its preferences definitively.
As further evidence, the Gallup polls indicated in September 1976 that respondents saw inflation as the most important issue, over 68% said as much; followed by government spending, 57%; unemployment, 56%; crime, 56%; and tax reform, 54%. In October, only 47% ranked inflation as the most important problem, with 31% ranking unemployment first. From these data, one would expect that economic problems played a major role in determining the outcome of the election. Yet when asked why they voted for Carter or Ford, of those voting for Carter only 1% mentioned their belief that he would get inflation under control, and 5% believed he would help the unemployed; only 4% liked his general economic policies. For Ford, only 2% thought he could bring down inflation, and 9% liked his general economic policies (the unemployment problem was not indicated specifically).
So, on what basis did voters make their selection? For Carter, 33% said a change in administration was the reason, while 14% just liked him, and 12% liked his general policies. For Ford, 43% favored his experience, 16% did not like the other choices, and 12% just liked him. Clearly, personal characteristics played an important role in this election, and while economic problems appeared more important to the voters before the election, they cast their votes on other bases. Unfortunately for Mr. Ford, whenever