A RECENT CARTOON in the Chicago Tribune shows a pollster before his boss reporting the latest findings: " . . . And when asked about the Panama Canal treaties, 22 percent said 'no,' 17 percent said 'yes,' and 61 percent said 'whatever side it was John Wayne said he was on'!"

That may or may not be a fair reading of "The Duke's" influence on current American thought. But for one group of citizens, anyway, the views John Wayne actually holds on the canal treaties are cause enough for calling out the horse soldiers from Fort Apache. This is the group - characterized by Mr. Wayne as "the extreme right" - that has turned on him because has dared to differ with them on the canal. In an article published on the opposite page last October, the legendary hero of such films as "Big Jake," "True Grit," "Hondo," "The Hellfighters" and "Chisum," argued in favor of the treaties. He had "carefully studied" the treaties, he said, and thought they would "modernize an outmoded relationship with a friendly and hospitable country."

Mr. Wayne's position so angered his usual pals who took the other side that the hate mail has been pouring in. He has been called - what else? - "a communist." His bank, Great Savings of California - for which Mr. Wayne does television commercials - has also taken abuse from critics.

We would volunteer to form a posse to head off the varmints, but The Duke, whether you see him as Rooster Cogburn or Big Jake McLain, appears to be riding tall enough in the saddle. "I've been jolted by the extreme left," he says. "I guess a little from the extreme right won't hurt me too much." We hope not. In fact, rather than hurt, this attack may actually advance the views Mr. Wayne champions. We can see him taking much more than a mere 61 percent of the undecideds with him. Going beyond that, we can even see another Wayne movie. Instead of being Sgt. Stryker on the sands of Iwo Jima, he is now at the locks of the Panama Canal, holding Old Glory with one hand and decking the far-right-wingers with the other.