THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION for Women has put together a pamphlet entitled ''Women Can Make the Difference,'' which could have far-reaching implications for the final campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. For the political establishment in the six unratified states that NOW has targeted, as well as for the national political establishment, the pamphlet provides persuasive documentation that a women's vote has finally emerged.
Leaders of the women's movement have long been predicting that the surge of women into the work force would produce a new breed of women who will vote in their own best interests. That prediction has come true in the months following the election of Ronald Reagan. Women are reacting to politics in very different ways than men are and they are moving in significant numbers toward the Democratic Party. Moreover, support for the Equal Rights Amendment is higher than ever before. In surveys taken since 1975, it never had more than 58 percent support, with more support from men than women. It has risen five points in popularity this year, with the biggest increase being among women who now support it as much as men.
NOW will be taking these new political facts of life into meetings with state political leaders in the final push for ERA ratification and the message is going to be hard to ignore: An important voting bloc will find a vote against the ERA to be against its best interest.
The pamphlet is a stunning compilation of major polls done by such respected organizations as Gallup, Harris, AP/NBC, New York Times/CBS, U.S. News and World Report, and The Christian Science Monitor, as well as articles from The National Journal, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, and The Christian Science Monitor. While bits and pieces of the polls received some attention at the time they were done, they take on much more significance when they are massed together and examined chronologically: The inescapable conclusion from the total package is that there is a growing women's vote that could have major repercussions in the next elections.
Last November, there was a gender gap of 8 percentage points in the New York Times/CBS exit poll on the presidential election. Reagan got 54 percent of male vote and only 46 percent of the female vote. Carter received only 37 percent of the male vote but got 45 per cent of the female vote. The gender gap has steadily increased since the election and has now doubled, according to the two most recent polls cited. A Harris poll rating Reagan's performance found approval from 65 percent of the men and only 49 percent of the women. Only 32 percent of the men disapproved, while 50 percent -- or 18 percentage points more -- of the women disapproved.
"When asked how they would vote in the pivotal 1982 off-year election for the House of Representatives, women go Democratic by an 11-point margin," wrote Louis Harris in an Aug. 3 survey. "In sharp contrast men give the Republicans a 4-point edge.
"For the Democrats, this means that just on the basis of sex differences, their entire margin today is dependent on the vote of women. One can only conclude that a major area of concentration for the Democrats must be to nurture and sustain those positions and causes that hold special relevance for women. For President Reagan and the Republicans, the single and most formidable obstacle to their becoming a majority party in the 1980s is the vote of women."
Harris attributed part of "the sizable sex differences now apparent to an overwhelming recognition that women do not receive an equal shake on job and financial concerns." And he concluded: "With an estimated 50 percent of adult women now working, these perceived failures of the establishment to give women financial equity give added impetus to oppose a president who has not given women's rights a high priority."
The deadline for ERA ratification is June 30, with three more states needed. NOW has targeted six states in a "countdown" campaign that it estimates will cost $15 million, $6 million to $10 million of which will be spent on advertising. So far NOW has raised $5 million. This past summer, it sent teams of "ERA missionaries" door to door in Utah to explain what the amendment is and what it isn't. That missionary technique will be used in pivotal districts in the unratified states. NOW is trying to recruit women on East Coast college campuses, who tend to be for ERA and career-oriented, to take a semester off to work for the amendment and to get their parents involved. The organization is also trying to put together a "message brigade" of 2 million names of ERA supporters who can be alerted by computerized mailing to lobby state legislators when key votes are coming up.
Passage of the ERA is a long shot and NOW leaders know it. But it has 200 full-time paid staff, several thousand full-time volunteers, and the active support of three former first ladies. It is able to demonstrate now that there is a women's vote, a dream of the Suffragettes, which might be coming true in time to bring sexual equality into the Constitution.