A woman on Walter Mondale's ticket? It's not very likely, political experts say, despite the rising chorus in favor of a woman for the No. 2 spot.
Feminist pressure in favor of a woman candidate, however, has put Mr. Mondale into a tricky and potentially dangerous political position on the eve of the Democratic convention in San Francisco.
The pressure could force Mondale to make a choice that would pacify feminists , but that in the long run could dim Democratic hopes for defeating Ronald Reagan in November.
Political analysts, such as Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, say the immediate impact of feminist pressure has been to improve the prospects of Sen. Gary Hart for vice-president.
At the same time, it has probably reduced to close to zero any chances for Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, one of the first men to be interviewed for the job by Mondale. It has also diminished the outlook for Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas , who many experts think could do the most to boost Mondale's hopes in the South.
The National Organization for Women has been leading the drive for a woman to stand at Mondale's side this fall. NOW, led by its president, Judy Goldsmith, brought the issue to a boil over the weekend when it threatened a San Francisco floor fight unless Mondale picked a woman as No. 2.
If the issue is fought out on the floor, said Ms. Goldsmith, ''I think there is considerable indication we can win it.'' About half of the delegates to the convention will be women, and about 400 delegates and alternates will be members of NOW.
Professor Ornstein disagrees, and suggests there is probably only a 1 in 10 possibility that Mondale would actually lose such a vote. But even those odds are ''too high'' for Mondale, Ornstein says, adding: ''I can't imagine anything worse than a convention overruling their nominee and forcing somebody else on the ticket.''
Even feminists express amazement that pressure for a woman has grown so quickly. An aide to one leading congresswoman who supports NOW's position says, ''It has a life of its own.''
Several women have been mentioned as possible running mates for Mondale. The clear front-runner is Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York. She would give Mondale help in the North, and would fire up feminists, who could be expected to work harder for the ticket. And she is seen as a tough, competent politician.
Other names discussed have been Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, and Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, who is Senator Hart's national co-chairman.
All of them have drawbacks. They have little or no foreign policy experience. They are not well known. They don't have big constituencies that they can bring with them to the ticket. Even so, Mrs. Schroeder says, the time for a woman has come. ''We feel it would help the ticket,'' she says. ''The gender gap is one thing we (the Democrats) have going for us'' against President Reagan.
On the other hand, Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona, who has been acting as peacemaker on the eve of the convention, doubts that this is the year for a woman. The ''dynamics'' this year are just not right, he says.
''Before the century is out, we'll see a woman on the ticket,'' Mr. Udall says. But for this year, ''the only way I can see it come about is (if Mondale) threw it open and said, 'Pick someone.' I think then the delegates would be under intense pressure to pick a woman.''
Mr. Udall, asked about potential women candidates this year, says grudgingly: ''You don't have (a Democratic woman) who has had what (Transportation Secretary) Elizabeth Dole (a Republican) has had - membership in the Cabinet, a major administrative role, that kind of thing.''
Whether a woman would help or hurt remains a point of dispute.
Public opinion polls offer some clues, but no clear-cut answers. A Gallup poll conducted June 6-8 found that among Democrats, 41 percent said a woman on the ticket would not change their vote. Some 32 percent said it would make them more likely to back the ticket; 18 percent said they would be less likely.
Among independent voters and Republicans, the story is different, however. Independents split about evenly - 25 to 23. And Republicans said by a 32-to-11 margin that they would be less likely to support a male-female ticket.
For Mondale, the flap over the No. 2 spot is most unfortunate, Dr. Ornstein says. ''This strategy . . . that NOW is pursuing is terribly self-destructive, and certainly destructive of the Democratic Party.''
The key to the vice-presidential choice is electoral votes, Ornstein says. Mondale, he says, must focus on electoral votes, not national polls. Regardless of the national polls, Democratic strategists believe that a woman could hurt the party in the South, which Mondale must carry.
Further, if a woman is on the Democratic ticket, the focus of the campaign will be on her. If Democrats are to win, the focus must be on President Reagan, not on the question: ''Can we really stand for having a woman on the ticket?''