Robert Novak of the Evans-Novak Rendering and Forecasting Factory is the recipient of the 1990 Wrong-Way-Corrigan trophy. It is awarded to the political pundit whose preelection predictions for Outlook bear the least relationship to the outcome. The runners-up are Richard Wirthlin, the Republican pollster, and Norman Ornstein, the most quoted pedagogue in the Western world.

The trophy committee had a most difficult task this year. The Body Count faction insisted that the award should be based on a simple mathematical calculation of partisan victories and losses.

The Long Head faction, which deals primarily in social psychoanalysis and the larger significance of transient events, insisted that the egregious failure of the pundits to assess properly the mental and emotional state of 186 million potential American voters overshadowed completely the lame performances of Mr. Novak, et al.

This faction, however, could not agree on which trend, mood, attitude or popular perversity had been most thoroughly misunderstood. Was it the uncontrollable "anger" thought to be surging through the body politic? Was it the "anti-incumbent" mood that would sweep clean the halls of Congress? Was it the "tax revolt" that meant instant death to all who uttered that three-letter word? Was it the Judas kiss of George Bush delivering his friends into the hands of the enemy? Was it the "class war" that will be declared some Tuesday afternoon if it isn't raining? The Body Count crowd prevailed, and Mr. Novak got the laurel as much by default as merit.

There will be other days and other trophies including the "Read My Words" award for revisionist journalism that explains why the electorate threw the rascals in instead of out as we had all predicted. The competition is underway.

The Washington Times, seeking to remove all doubt as to what did or did not happen last Tuesday, declares that "while the status quo lingers and nearly 97 percent of the incumbents won reelection, voters still sent {an anti-incumbent} message." Is that clear?

Editorialists at The Wall Street Journal, who are never in doubt, had a dandy explanation for the narrow escape of their Georgia hero, Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich. A young Harvardian whom Mr. Gingrich had beaten like a drum two years ago came within fewer than 1,000 votes of toppling him this time. The cause? Simple: Mr. Gingrich, who is known throughout the English-speaking world as a rabid and relentless foe of higher taxes, had not been as rabid and relentless on that subject as The Journal's editorial page.

"The Big Vote," a New York Times headline proclaimed, "Is for 'No.' " "No" what? The author of the accompanying article attempted to hit that one out of the park: "By its very nature this midterm election was an imperfect national referendum, often dominated by personalities and local circumstances rather than overarching issues, full of exceptions and contradictions." Right.

"Voters turn tight-fisted," according to USA Today. It then proceeded to reveal that voters in Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Massachusetts and elsewhere "rejected deep tax cuts" and refused to put limits on future tax increases. "A foolish consistency," Emerson reminds us, "is the hobgoblin of little minds."

We must await the explanation of the news magazines and today's talk show performers before venturing any risky opinions of our own about the off-year elections. We can be sure they will tell us why, with "anger," "anti-incumbency" and a "taxpayers' revolution" boiling our blood and our brains, two out of three of us chose to shop instead of voting on Tuesday.

Lest I appear ungenerous or natteringly negative, it should be noted that some crystal balls in this all-knowing city were unclouded in the days before the election. David Broder, as usual, was as near to perfection in his preelection forecasts as one gets. The post-election judgment of Mary McGrory, borrowed from Winston Churchill, had the pertinence and brevity of genius: "This pudding has no theme."

Horace Busby's speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 17 is likewise worth noting. Democrats, he said, have controlled the Congress for 56 of the last 60 years, and there is no reason to expect that to change in this century: "Things, at least in Congress, are going to come out after all the hullabaloo pretty much as they were going in."

He got that right.