With all Gallup's indicators suggesting that November's presidential election will be a close one, the "gender gap" political differences between men and women takes on new significance.

With Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic ticket, political analysts gave a lot of attention to the gender gap in 1984. But in the end the gender gap mattered little, since Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in a landslide.In 1988, the gender gap deserves re-examination. While it has received relatively little attention recently, Gallup analysis finds the gender gap persists and may be decisive this November.

A special analysis of 1988 Gallup survey data finds male registered voters dividing about equally between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party (39percent vs. 37 percent) on the question of which party's presidential candidate is most likely to get their vote in November.

Female registered voters, on the other hand, express a clear preference for the Democratic Party's eventual nominee (43 percent vs. 31 percent for the Republican nominee). Given that wom-en make up a larger proportion (53 percent) of the overall electorate than men and now vote at rates as least as high as their male counterparts, the gender gap translates into a Democratic advantage at the polls.

With the economy continuing to cut in favor of the Republicans, the Democrats will need every advantage they can get if they are to recapture the White House _ and the gender gap is an important one.

History of the Gender Gap

Political analysts first began talking about the gender gap in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan's job approval ratings were found to be consistently higher among men than among women. An examination of Gallup Poll data for Reagan's predecessors _ Eisenhower through Carter _ showed no significant differences in men's and women's approval ratings.

Throughout Reagan's tenure in office, a consistent gender gap has been found in his job approval ratings. His overall ratings have ranged from roughly 40 percent to 60 percent, but during both his high points and his low points, his ratings among men have exceeded his ratings among women by 7 to 10 points.

Among our sample of over 4,000 registered voters interviewed in early 1988, approval is 7 percentage points higher among men than it is among women (53 percent vs. 46 percent).

While the gender gap is most often associated specifically with attitudes toward Ronald Reagan, consistent differences by gender are also found throughout the 1980s in basic party identification.

Such differences between the sexes in political partisanship are a relatively new phenomenon. A review of Gallup Poll data from the 1970s finds no significant differences in the proportions of men and women who called themselves Republicans or Democrats.

Reasons Behind the Gender Gap

Gallup analysis of data conducted for the Times Mirror/Gallup research project, "The People, the Press and Politics," has identified fundamental differences in the political values of men and women that help explain why the gender gapexists.

In three specific areas, significant differences are found in the political values of men and women that relate to partisanship. They are as follows:

* MEN ARE MORE HAWKISH AND MORE STRONGLY ANTI-COMMUNIST THAN WOMEN. The Times Mirror data isolated a value called "militant anti-communism" as one of the fundamental values underlying people's political attitudes. Men scored higher than women on the scale measuring attitudes relating to hawkishness, anti-communist beliefs and ethnocentrism. The tendency for men to be more hawkish and women more dovish has been evident in survey data for some time.

* MEN ARE MORE ANTI-GOVERNMENT THAN WOMEN. Those who self-identify as Republicans or support GOP candidates are more critical of government and more distrustful of the government's role in society than those who side with the Democrats.

These attitudes are more often associated with men than with women. When anti-government attitudes are combined with a low passion for social justice, the result is a group that forms one of the cornerstones of the Republican Party _ the Enterprisers. This heavily male group of fiscally conservative Republicans generally opposes any expansion in government spending to achieve social justice.

In contrast, groups that combine an absence of anti-government feelings with a strong passion for social justice are heavily female and represent the core of the Democratic Party.

* MEN ARE MORE LIKELY THAN WOMEN TO HOLD "AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALIST" VIEWS. Men are more likely than wom-en to subscribe to a set of attitudes the Times Mirror research characterizes as American Exceptionalism. In essence, this value represents an abiding faith that America and its free enterprise system can overcome any obstacle in its path.

This form of super-patriotism rated second only to social justice, a value on which men and women do not differ significantly, in dividing people with Republican sympathies from those with Democratic sympathies.

While men and women don't differ much in their attitudes toward business, analysis shows that pro-business attitudes are a better predictor of GOP partisanship for males than they are for females.

Similarly, while men and women tend to agree on issues relating to censorship of books, expanding police search and seizure powers, and limitations on press freedoms, women who take pro-civil liberties positions on these issues are much more likely to be Democratic.