They should have left room for another color -- flashing yellow, for caution -- on those big maps of America the TV networks were swiftly filling in on election night to designate the Ronald Reagan landslide.

If the voters had designed their own map, they would have posted that caution sign squarely in the center of the vivid reds and strong blues the networks used to show how the states were marching in lock step into the Reagan presidential column.

The Election Day message the voters were sending the reelected president -- and both political parties -- was clear and strong and one they had repeatedly stated in interviews around the nation during the long campaign year:

"We like you personally, Mr. President, and we like the way things are now going in America. But we don't want too much of a change, and we'd like to keep the country moving straight down the center of the road for the next four years we're giving you."

That is just about how they voted. Perhaps it also explains why the great landslide had as much to do with personal affection for Reagan and better feelings about the country than with a strong national tide leading to some great ideological realignment of the two political parties.

In this the voters were sending something of a mixed message.

They powerfully reaffirmed support for the president personally, and in so doing, they overwhelmingly expressed a desire to restore presidential continuity after five straight failed one-term presidencies, if one includes Richard M. Nixon's.

At the same time, they rejected any prospect of a sharp ideological shift in the country by keeping control of the House in the hands of the Democrats and strengthening that opposition party in the Senate.

In effect, America voted to maintain a political balance of power in Washington by keeping in place a divided government.

To each side, there was an identical message: "Work it out between yourselves, for the good of the country."

Their votes give the president and Congress a political opportunity to accomplish just that.

Instead of dealing the president a stronger second-term hand to play in his legislative dealings, or a blank check, they reduced the congressional support he enjoyed when he began his presidency four years ago.

In 1980, Reagan carried 33 new Republicans into the House and 12 new GOP senators, enabling his party to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats for the first time since 1952.

On Tuesday, the Republicans failed to win back the 26 House seats lost two years ago, and their Senate margin was reduced by two.

Yet, the latest harsh rejection of Democratic national leadership by the voters also inevitably works to force the Democrats toward the center and a more conciliatory role.

The practical political result is a situation that potentially resembles the years when Dwight D. Eisenhower won back the White House for the Republicans for the first time in a generation and then fashioned a governing coalition with the Democratic leaders of Congress that worked effectively for most of the 1950s.

The voters of 1984 sent another strong Election Day message consistent with views they expressed earlier. They did not give comfort -- or support -- to extremes of left or right.

Among the masses of polling data flowing out of the results, two in particular reinforce that message of moderation American voters were delivering.

According to NBC polls, one of every five Republicans who voted to reelect Reagan also split his ticket in other races.

This statistical evidence reinforced the kinds of comments this reporter was hearing from a growing number of Republican voters in the last few weeks of the campaign.

Their reaction to Reagan's first TV debate had upset them. It aroused enough concerns about his possible second-term actions to cause them to reassess how they would vote for members of Congress. Some specifically said they now planned to vote for Democrats in congressional races to insure a check on presidential power in Washington. So, it seems, they did.

Similarly, I heard increasing concerns about the influence of the Moral Majority or the so-called religious right in the national politics of 1984 and beyond. Again, some voters said they were worried enough to support Democrats in local and national races or to go against Reagan.

That seems to have been a significant factor in the way Jewish voters cast their ballots Tuesday. An Election Day national poll of 3,000 Jewish voters commissioned by the American Jewish Congress showed a 25 percent increase in votes for Walter Mondale.

And, it showed, three of every four of those Jewish voters said they had been strongly influenced to vote for Mondale and against Reagan because of their increasing concerns about the church-state issue.

The voters spoke more ambiguously, but nonetheless gave off strong signals of intent, about two other significant questions that affect the political present and future: coattails and the prospects for political party realignment prospects.

Great as the 1984 results were for Reagan personally, his victory obviously did not sweep great numbers of "Reaganauts" into power with him. Thus, for coattails, the fashion this fall is small.

As for realignment, well, this landslide simply does not approach the magnitude of past ones that reshaped the nation's political landscape.

Take the Franklin D. Roosevelt landslide of 1936, the election that ratified the New Deal as the nation's governing philosophy for decades to come.

The historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., has written of that 1936 FDR landslide:

"Roosevelt had gained the largest presidential vote in history, the largest proportion of electoral votes since 1820, the largest House majority since 1855, the largest Senate majority since 1869."

After those votes were counted, the Democrats held 331 seats in the House of Representatives and 76 in the Senate.

Nor did the Reagan victory come close to matching other huge electoral triumphs in greatly increasing the political party's power: In 1920, Warren G. Harding's landslide resulted in a gain for the Republicans of 61 House and 10 Senate seats. In 1952, Eisenhower's landslide enabled the Republicans to win 22 House seats and wrest control of the House from the Democrats. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson's landslide produced a 43-seat gain for the Democrats in the House and left them with a 68-to-32 seat margin in the Senate.

But no Democrat today, in the aftermath of the latest crushing repudiation of the party's national leadership, can take comfort from current prospects, either.

In the last five presidential elections, the Democratic Party's candidate received these percentages of the total vote cast: 42.7; 37.5; 50.6; 41 and 41.

You don't have to be a mathematician to understand the message those numbers spell out. For years, American voters have been sending the Democrats a uniformly negative message:

"When it comes to national leadership, you're regarded as a party representing only minority interests. Consequently, we're consistently giving you a distinct minority of our votes."