Boston — Students have been called the ''foot soldiers'' of political campaigns, but according to observers here they are not likely to be a major factor in the Massachusetts primary election Tuesday.
Massachusetts is well known for its high concentration of colleges and universities. There are currently an estimated 440,000 students of voting age in the state - a significant number of whom have volunteered to hand out campaign fliers or do telephone canvassing for one of the five candidates in the Democratic primary.
But in what is shaping up as a two-man race in the Bay State between Gary Hart and Walter Mondale, student votes are not expected to be a deciding factor.
''There is definitely a significant vote, but a lot of them are registered at home (out of state),'' says Jack Corrigan, political director for the Mondale campaign.
''As a force they are much more significant in their volunteer activity.''
Says Betsy Cornell of the Hart campaign: ''Students are very important - they are vital to Senator Hart's campaign in that they provide a lot of the foot work that needs to be done.''
But an education official adds: ''More students are working for candidates than will end up voting for candidates.''
According to a March 7 Boston Globe poll, Hart has had the most success among the Democratic contenders in appealing to younger voters in the state - including students.
The poll showed that among potential voters under 30 years old, Hart was the favorite of 57 percent. Mr. Mondale was ranked next, with 19 percent, followed by John Glenn with 12 percent, George McGovern with 7 percent, and Jesse Jackson with 2 percent.
''Gary Hart is appealing to the younger generation, and it is showing. He's got thousands of workers coming out to his offices overnight,'' says Mindy Lubber, program director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.
The flood of campaign volunteers for Hart was so great following Hart's victories in New Hampshire and Maine that a second campaign office was opened in Cambridge to accommodate the overflow workers.
But Hart isn't the only candidate trying to reach students.
Jesse Jackson has established voter registration as a pillar of his campaign. He has taken his campaign to college campuses across the states, encouraging students to become more involved in political issues, voice their concerns, and vote.
George McGovern, a rallying point in 1972 for students protesting the Vietnam war, has continued to raise issues of particular concern to students, such as the nuclear arms race and United States aid to El Salvador. Mr. McGovern has been well received by students, but he has not garnered anything near the amount and intensity of support among students as has Gary Hart.
Though students have tended in recent years to play a more important role as election workers than as election voters, student groups are currently working to reverse that.
An effort is currently being organized to make students a recognizable force in American electoral politics and to register 1 million new student voters by the November elections.
The effort is supported by Public Interest Research Groups, which were formed in various states in the early 1970s as part of the Ralph Nader consumer movement. The groups are aiming to organize a nationwide student coalition dealing with issues ranging from nuclear war to student financial aid.
The idea sprang from a three-day conference at Harvard University in February. An estimated 1,500 students from campuses across the country attended. Although invitations to address to the group were extended to each of the candidates in the Democratic primary, only Jackson and McGovern accepted, and McGovern was later forced to cancel his appearance.