THE question of whether a woman will actually get on a presidential ticket as a running mate in 1984 will be answered in some dozen weeks, when the Democrats meet in San Francisco to nominate their slate. At the least, the prospect of a woman vice-president has received far more serious discussion this election cycle than ever before.
The latest evidence on the crucial question -- whether a woman would help or hurt a ticket -- comes out a draw in general attitudes, but probably a minus in the November 1984 equation. The latest CBS/New York Times survey found 10 percent of Americans ''less likely'' to vote for a Democratic ticket with a woman as vice-president, and an almost equal 8 percent ''more likely'' to vote for such a ticket.
But when the voter groups are broken down, a woman vice-president appeals most where the Democtats are already strong, among women under 45 and nonwhites. A woman vice-president tends to hurt the Democrats among voters they must court -- independent men, suburban men, Middle Western and Western men, and men over 45.
In other words, a woman vice-president for the Democrats -- at least considered in the abstract -- plays to Ronald Reagan's strength among men voters , suburbanites, and Westerners; it does not compensate for it.
At this stage, such surveys tend to measure raw stereotypes. A woman if nominated would generate an extra modicum of publicity for the ticket, good or bad. Her performance on the hustings, in televised debate, could substantially alter perceptions. Conceivably she could help increase the turnout -- and the Democrats argue they need a big turnout to win.
It is hard to find good evidence that a vice-presidential choice matters all that much in election outcomes. In the 1960 election, Lyndon Johnson's help in Texas arguably helped win the election for John Kennedy. In another close election, 1976, Sen. Robert Dole's caustic campaigning possibly handicapped Gerald Ford.
The effort to ''balance'' a ticket, however, by region, age, ideology, and now by sex will nonetheless be given its customary high priority this summer, where every conceivable advantage is sought.Attitudes toward women's leadership qualities were among the most striking findings of the CBS/Times survey. On skill at compromise, younger women tend to think women and men are equally good. But men 45 and over, independent men, and suburban men believe men superior at compromise, by a 2-to-1 margin. There is general agreement among all groups that on compassion, protecting the needy, women are better by margins of 4 and 5 to 1 . On standing up to enemies - despite the public record of Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Indira Gandhi in India, and the late Golda Meir in Israel - there is general agreement among all groups that men are better than women, by margins of 10 and more to 1.Again, in the abstract, none of this helps the Democrats very much. They are already identified as friendlier to the poor. Reagan is rated strong in standing up to adversaries. Gary Hart or Jesse Jackson has made more of a pitch on a woman as running mate; if either becomes the nominee, he would stand to gain less in new voter recruitment by a woman vice-president. For Walter Mondale, a woman on the ticket tends to play to the Democratic Party's strength, not to erode the GOP opposition's base.One can be grateful for the advance in recognition of women's prospects for White House service. But the stereotyped expectations for a woman's performance will not likely be dispelled until a woman is actually given the chance.