As the Reagan administration has discovered, the regulatory process can be a powerful tool for policy makers, particularly when Congress doesn't want to cooperate. But to many outside the government, the regulatory process is a complete mystery, according to a new Gallup Poll conducted for the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

Ten percent of those polled said that the courts wrote federal regulations, 47 percent said Congress wrote them, and only 17 percent correctly answered that the executive branch has that responsibility. Asked which were written first, laws or regulations, 29 percent said laws; 28 percent, regulations; and 14 percent said both are written at the same time.

Half of those interviewed could not name a single federal regulation that had affected them. Among those who could name rules that had had an impact on them, Internal Revenue Service regulations were named most frequently (13 percent), followed by those of the Social Security Administration (8 percent), Environmental Protection Agency (6 percent) and Food and Drug Administration (6 percent). Sixty-two percent said they wanted to know more about how federal regulations are made, while 19 percent said they could care less. So for the 62 percent, read on.