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Five years later . . . another view of Carter

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HARRY Truman had his comeback in history. So did Dwight Eisenhower -- and even Richard Nixon, to a degree.

Now it may be Jimmy Carter's turn.

As presidential historians have said all along, it would be only a matter of time before the country began to reassess the Carter presidency and perhaps revise its view of the maverick Democrat from Plains, Ga.

That now appears to be happening. Evidence is mounting of changing perceptions as scholars research the Carter years, as news media run retrospective pieces about the former President, and as Americans take another look five years later.

The latest indication of a possible comeback comes in a Washington Post/ABC News poll of 1,500 people published this week. It shows that Mr. Carter has gone up in public esteem, with an overall rating of 55 percent favorable and 39 percent unfavorable.

``He seems more highly regarded now than during most of his presidency, and his rating is almost the reverse of what it was in December 1980, as his term drew to a close,'' writes Barry Sussman, the newspaper's pollster.

Most of the renewed support, says Mr. Sussman, comes from blacks (85 percent favorable), liberals (65 percent), and Democrats generally (70 percent). Republicans and GOP-leaning independents still rate him unfavorably (57 percent), he finds. Carter does poorly among most conservatives; in the West; and among people earning more than $30,000.

Political experts suggest that the turnabout is due in part to the fact that Ronald Reagan is such a polarizing figure. Blacks, for instance, many of whom feel they have done poorly under the present administration, like Carter better now than they did during his incumbency.

The Beirut hostage crisis may also have had an effect on popular attitudes. President Reagan studiously avoided the image of a beleaguered leader as Americans were held captive for two weeks. But he, like Carter during the grueling Iranian hostage crisis, was unwilling to resort to military force to resolve the problem.

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