US women gaining in political clout

Women, despite defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, are poised to become a growing force in American political life.

That is the view of a number of political analysts, who note a widening divergence of views between men and women on many issues and say the women's vote could prove pivotal in this fall's election.

On both the activist and grass-roots level, these experts say, the major women's issue is the economy. And some analysts say that Democrats, for the moment at least, stand to gain from the women's mood.

''Women are leading a move back to the Democrats,'' says Paul Maslin, an analyst with Patrick Caddell's political consulting firm, Cambridge Survey Research. (Caddell formerly acted as a pollster for the Carter administration.) ''The war and peace issue was obviously an important factor in the 1980 election. It's still a factor, in explaining women's lower support for Reagan.

''Now the big activator is the economy. The big reason for the disparity between men and women politically is that women are affected more. They are the main recipients of social welfare, the first fired. Women have the greater economic basis for moving away from the Republicans.''

On some so-called ''women's issues,'' men and women still largely agree, according to many polls. For example, majorities of both sexes still favor ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, though women (61 percent) are more inclined than men (51 percent) to re-introduce it in Congress.

But some political strategists theorize that the ERA will not likely again become the focus of women's politics.

''The ERA will be useful as a souvenir: 'Remember the ERA!' . . . The women's movement's Alamo, a reminder of how the political deck is stacked against them, '' says Roger Craver, fund-raiser for organizations such as the National Organization of Women.

''The ERA has politicized the constituencies of the women's groups,'' says Craver. These organizations are turning to the courts, to economic boycotts of industries like insurance companies to end sex discrimination, and to the political arena, he says.

''NOW can raise more money than the Democratic Party,'' Craver says. ''It can recruit more volunteers than either party. In three months, by mid-September, NOW will be the third largest political action committee - behind only Jesse Helms's Congressional Club and Terry Dolan's NCPAC (National Conservative Political Action Committee). And it can raise this money because of the political heat among women voters.''

The Gallup poll shows women favoring the Democratic Party by more than twice the margin of men if a congressional vote were held now. Women say they would vote 56 percent Democratic, 35 percent Republican, while men would vote 50 percent Democratic, 41 percent Republican. President Reagan's support among women is about the reverse of his support among men. Women disapprove of Reagan's job performance by the margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, while men approve by almost the same percentages, 51 percent to 39 percent, George Gallup observes.

''There is no basis for a women's party as such,'' says Kathleen Francovic, a director of the CBS poll which completed a study of women's political attitudes in June. ''The Democratic Party may become the women's party. Women are becoming more Democratic - something we hadn't seen in the last 20 years.''

Whatever political direction women may be moving, it is now clear women's views have been shifting away from men's views in important ways, since about the mid-1970s.

On issues that focus on compassion for the underclass, and confidence in the system, women began to show ''significant and sustained variations'' from men in 1976, says Everett C. Ladd, consulting editor for Public Opinion magazine.

''One of these (variations) might be called the compassion dimension,'' says Ladd in the magazine's latest issue. ''Women were saying in 1976 and 1977 that they placed a greater emphasis on the role of government in getting jobs for people who lacked them, in helping blacks. . . .

''The risk dimension was also one where men's attitudes contrasted with women's. For example, women were more receptive to strong governmental regulation to protect the environment.

''A striking new split involved confidence in the system. Again and again, women said they were less sure that the country would be strong and prosperous in the future, and were less certain that the society would be able to solve its problems and function successfully.''

''At the beginning of the 1980s, everything seen for 1976 and 1977 continues to hold,'' Ladd concludes. ''There are broad if not enormously deep differences in the general social and political outlook of men and women.''

Experience in the workplace appears to be a primary shaper of women's views.

In 1970, 18 percent of American women had full-time jobs compared with 38 percent today, the CBS survey reports. In 1974, 60 percent said they would prefer to stay home and take care of the family instead of working. In 1982, women were evenly divided (48 percent/47 percent) between working and staying home.

Women's justification for working has become more sharply economic. In 1970, 41 percent of working women said they worked to support themselves or their families, and 48 percent to bring in extra money. In 1982, 60 percent of working women said they worked to support themselves or their families, and only 25 percent to bring in extra money, according to the June 26-28, 1982, CBS survey.

Work experience has heightened women's perception that they can have too little political power or fail to get the same salary as men for the same job, according to the CBS survey.

Unemployment, recession, inflation, high interest rates are listed as ''the most important problem facing this country today'' in a June Gallup survey. Men see the Republican Party (34 percent) as slightly better able than the Democrats (30 percent) to handle the nation's problem. However, women see the Democrats ( 41 percent) as better able than the Republicans (23 percent) to handle the leading problems.

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