CHICAGO -- For Theodore Lowi, a professor of political science at Cornell, the conservative movement that flowered with the 1980 election of President Reagan remains a vital force.

"The stakes are high, and the liberals are losing their shoes," he said, arguing that the long-range consequences of the Iran-contra scandal may be to strengthen those who would lift congressional restrictions to permit a powerful presidency "on the wartime model."

One of Lowi's colleagues at Cornell, Benjamin Ginsberg, said, however, that "the political forces of the moderate and liberal left" have successfully used the news media, the Democratic Senate and the judiciary "to bring the executive under siege and to undermine the presidency" through the Iran-contra affair.

The conflicting views of Lowi and Ginsberg reflected the clear lack of a consensus on such basic issues as the strength of conservatism and liberalism, and the consequences of the Iran-contra scandal on the presidency among those attending the 83rd annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

A number of political scientists in varying ways downgraded the long-range ideological and partisan consequences of Reagan's election and the mobilization of conservative forces during his administration.

"No one can demonstrate that the leadership of the right has moved public opinion . . . . The program of the right does not have political support," said Warren E. Miller of Arizona State University. "Without Iran-contra, Reagan would have left the presidency with a real impact on the way elites regard the presidency. That has been irretrievably damaged. It {the scandal} has set the 'imperial presidency' back."

Miller argued that the chances of a Republican candidate like Vice President Bush defeating a Democratic opponent in 1988 would improve in direct proportion to Bush's willingness to do battle with the Christian right during the primaries.

"If the issue is the emergence of a new majority, it hasn't happened," said Nelson W. Polsby of Stanford University, contending that when Democratic and Republican elected officials are counted, a roughly 58-to-42 Democratic advantage has held up since 1952.

Richard W. Boyd, of Wesleyan University, said that on a broad range of issues including welfare, Social Security, housing, civil rights and arms control, "the Reagan victories mean remarkably little as barometers of public support . . . . For this reason, the Reagan years have not positioned the Republican Party especially well for the Democratic challenge in 1988 and beyond. The Reagan victories have not set the U.S. on the course of a long-range conservative agenda."

A number of other political scientists, however, view the changes wrought during the Reagan years in a very different light:

James MacGregor Burns, of Williams College, said: "Reagan has brilliantly regenerated the Republican Party by making it into an ideological party . . . . The Democrats could learn a great deal from the Republicans. The Republicans decided fundamentally who they were, and they made that work."

While the institution of the presidency has been damaged by the Iran-contra scandal, Burns argued that Reagan will leave a legacy of a "Republican Party {that} is intact as a powerful conservative party."

Bert A. Rockman, of the University of Pittsburgh, wrote in a paper delivered here:

"We know in retrospect that the joint effect of the large tax cuts with indexation and an insufficiently large cut in aggregate expenditures has made Reagan's presidency a force to be contended with for the forseeable future and, arguably, the most significant presidency since that of Franklin Roosevelt. It is Reagan's agenda -- a smaller government, particularly on the revenue side -- which now commands center stage even as he moves farther into the wings."

David Vogel, of the University of California at Berkeley, said: "I think the conservatives and Reagan will continue to do well, I don't see any turn {to the left}. In terms of any new government initiatives, they {liberals} have been precluded for the indefinite future by the deficits."

Even the Iran-contra scandal, Vogel argued, is likely to quickly recede in importance. "If Reagan gets a treaty with the Soviets and there are gains in Central America, he'll ride free."