Religion. The family. The flag. These are traditional values and symbols that have played a big role in the 1984 election. President Reagan has made them centerpieces of his campaign. Yet some analysts say this is one area that could still be of some help to Democratic challenger Walter Mondale.
Mr. Mondale, of course, has a problem. Millions of Americans equate Mr. Reagan with things like old-fashioned flag-waving patriotism and prayer in the schools. How does one run against the flag? How does one run against prayer?
Mondale's task is to have some of that red, white, and blue rub off on his campaign, while at the same time convincing voters that Reagan may be on the wrong side of important issues like school prayer.
This isn't easy. But Democrats are trying. As often as possible, they portray Mondale in front of large American flags. They show him standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in TV ads. Issues like prayer or abortion, however, are harder to handle. They can be as sensitive as nitroglycerine. If Mondale supports legalized abortion, Republicans blast him as antifamily. If Mondale opposes prayer in the schools, he's criticized as intolerant of religion.
Yet Democrats insist that if they can only argue their case clearly, most American voters will be on their side on these issues.
Some analysts agree. Public opinion experts say that a large body of public opinion appears to share Mondale's views. Mondale simply has not hit the issues hard enough, or often enough, they say.
Mondale's positions on issues like prayer and abortion appear particularly popular with younger voters, analysts say.
Abortion is clearly the most sensitive of these. Mondale supports the Democratic platform, which says that ''a woman has a right to choose whether and when to have a child.'' He also supports the 1973 Supreme Court decision that expanded abortion rights, and opposes an anti-abortion amendment.
Mondale argues against a school prayer amendment. He says it is contrary to America's shared ideal of religious pluralism.
Mondale asks: Who would write such a prayer?
Mondale also opposes tuition tax credits for parochial schools. Whatever help is given such schools by government should be ''constitutionally acceptable,'' the Democratic platform states.
Historic questions are raised by this year's debate over such issues. Mondale warns that if Reagan gets all he wants, it could begin to break down the historic wall between church and state. But Mondale also warns that other, ugly things may be creeping into national policy under the guise of religion and values. He puts it this way:
''When (a president) speaks of family, faith, and flag, he must invoke such charged words to include Americans, not to divide them; to inspire confidence, not to arouse fears.
''Family must not become a code for intolerance. Religion must not become a code for censorship. Neighborhood must not become code for discrimination. Law must not become code for repression. Work must not become code for callousness. Flag must not become code for jingoism. Peace must not become code for war.''