Jesse Jackson's trip to Syria has grabbed the headlines, dominated the evening TV news, and excited the political world. But what impact will it have on Election '84 and on the two front-runners, Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan? And what will it do for Mr. Jackson's own campaign?
Political analyst Donald Ferree answers all these questions with a paradox. ''It is a little too early,'' Mr. Ferree says. ''And it is a little too late.'' Ferree, who is with the Roper Organization, explains his reasoning this way:
Jackson's return with Navy Lt. Robert O. Goodman Jr. from a Syrian jail must be rated a political triumph. But it comes too early to have an emotional impact two months from now when Jackson faces his first big test at the ballot box. That comes on ''Super Tuesday,'' March 13, in the primaries in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. By that time, the Jackson triumph will be only a memory for most voters.
On the other hand, the triumph comes too late. There are now less than two months until the first state primary. That leaves too little time for Jackson to capitalize on Lieutenant Goodman's return and put together a strong political organization.
Does all of this mean there will be no impact from the Jackson trip?
Hardly. Experts see several things happening as a result which could be felt right through the 1984 campaign.
First, Jackson can expect at least short-term benefits.
Jackson has been capturing 8 to 10 percent of the Democratic ''vote'' in trial heats against the other candidates since last September. Several analysts say they wouldn't be at all surprised to see that figure ''blip'' upward by three or four points in the next month. That will make it look as if Jackson has momentum, and will make it somewhat easier to raise money.
These same analysts don't expect Jackson's stronger showing in the polls to last, however, unless he can come up with another headline-getter very soon.
Second, the great fuss over Jackson must worry the Mondale camp.
James Shriver, an analyst with the Gallup Organization, notes that about half of Jackson's political strength comes from voters who would otherwise support Walter Mondale. Jackson and Mondale fight over black voters, Hispanic voters, and other minorities who are part of what Jackson calls his ''rainbow coalition.''
An uptick in Jackson's strength could slow Mondale's bandwagon. But it almost certainly would not stop it.
Finally, there's the possible impact on President Reagan. One impact is a minus. The other is a plus.
If Jackson continues to do well, his predictions about exciting the black community and registering 3 million to 4 million new black voters could come closer to reality. And that troubles Republicans. In past elections, 90 percent of the black vote has gone against the GOP.
At the same time, Democratic strategists in the South worry that Jackson's presence in the campaign is pushing Mondale's rhetoric ''further and further to the left - far more than he normally would. Mondale is making promises that he really shouldn't make.'' In the long run, if Jackson nudges Mondale far enough to the left, it could greatly enhance Reagan's prospects in November.
cc20p4 Having said all of this, a few words of caution from the political experts who worry that the news about Jackson could be overblown:
Despite his media blitz, Jackson still is having trouble getting support from a large number of big-name black political leaders. Many blacks feel that a vote for Jackson is just a throw-away gesture. They argue that it is far more important to get behind someone like Mondale ''who really has a chance of winning,'' as one black official says.
Jackson's campaign is also suffering because of its late start. John Lewis, a longtime civil rights leader and current city councilman in Atlanta, says that even in Georgia, with its large minority vote, Jackson appears to have almost no political organization.
''Jackson is much more visible now, after his trip to Syria,'' concedes Mr. Lewis. ''He gets large crowds. But I'm not sure he can translate that into organization, votes, and money.
''In the black community, no doubt some people are taking Jesse more seriously, but most elected black officials will continue to support Mondale or Glenn. And down here I just can see no real movement in Jackson's direction at this time.''