Washington — On the surface the Reagan administration is exuding optimism. But behind its happy yips over the rapidly improving economy (as much a surprise to Reaganites as to anyone else), a new mood of anxiety is evident.
It focuses on a lag in the economy that Reagan's political advisers now fear will come next year. A downturn may occur at a moment that could cause the President major problems in his effort to win reelection. Such a development would signal voters that there has, in fact, been a deep recession during the Reagan administration.
But the administration's apprehensions go beyond the prospect of an economy that may start running out of steam next year. These added concerns relate to such matters as:
Foreign affairs. Presidential pollsters are reporting that the public is much less than approving of Mr. Reagan's involvement in Central America. The White House is well aware of a new Washington Post/ABC Poll which showed that 49 percent disapproved of the President's handling of foreign affairs in general; 42 percent approved. Only 33 percent approved of his Central America policy, against 48 percent who showed disapproval.
Overall presidential performance. The latest Gallup Poll shows a 5 percent dip (from 47 to 42 percent) in the number who approve of Mr. Reagan's conduct of the office.
And while the Reagan people publicly discount polls showing that either Sen. John Glenn or former Vice-President Walter Mondale could beat the President if the election were held today, they concede, privately, that their own polling indicates that Mr. Reagan is, as one political adviser put it, ''in for a real horse race next year.''
National politics. The President's chief worry, as depicted by those around him, is the exceptionally high negative rating he consistently receives in all polls.
In fact, it appears that upward of one-fourth of the public opposes him no matter what - and that this disaffection awaits Reagan in any reelection bid.
This ''agin'' vote, as it is often labeled, is made up principally of those in low-income brackets, mainly blacks and Hispanics.
Reagan pollsters once were predicting that this hard-core opposition would lessen as the economy picked up and more people went back to work. The trickle of workers back to jobs is beginning. But the resistance to Reagan among these same people seems to be holding firm.
How potent is the ''agin'' vote in an election? Veteran election analyst Richard Scammon told reporters recently that it is a very important factor in almost every presidential election.
The gender gap. The Reagan camp is particularly unsettled over its inability to narrow it. The President is pictured as being completely baffled by the continuing evidence that a whopping majority of American women oppose him.
Now a Justice Department official, Barbara Honegger, claims that the Reagan administration has made ''a sham'' of an effort to remove gender discrimination from federal laws. Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes replied by reading a list of presidential appointments of women and emphasizing that Reagan is seeking changes in more than 100 laws that discriminate against women.
The budget deficit. Congressional economic experts now forecast the deficit will approach the $200 billion mark next year. Mr. Reagan has predicted that the burgeoning economy will produce increased revenue that could cut substantially into federal deficit. As of now, there are no signs that this is coming about.