The Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press said yesterday a national poll it took last month showed 21 percent of the people -- not 51 percent as reported -- associated Republicans with "rich, powerful moneyed interests." In a previous poll three years ago, 18 percent made such an association. The big jump to 51 percent was cited in several recent reports in The Post. Times mirror said the incorrect figure was due to a computing error. (Published 10/13/90)

Public misgivings about the Democrats' ability to govern and the Republicans' links to the wealthy are souring growing numbers of Americans on politics, according to a massive new study of voters' attitudes released last night.

The survey for the Times Mirror publishing company "presents a disquieting picture of political gridlock," according to principal authors Donald S. Kellermann and Andrew Kohut. "Despite the personal popularity of President Bush, cynicism toward the political system in general is growing as the public in unprecedented numbers associates Republicans with wealth and greed, Democrats with fecklessness and incompetence."

Based on 3,004 face-to-face interviews in May, supplemented by phone re-interviews with one-third of the subjects after the Persian Gulf crisis erupted last month, the survey contains bad news for both parties.

Compared to a similar survey three years earlier, it shows support for Democratic candidates and policies declining, with a 32-point falloff in Democratic Party identification among lower-income whites and minorities, who have been historically among the Democrats' most reliable constituencies.

But the popularity of Bush and his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, has not rubbed off on other Republicans. GOP policies -- especially on domestic concerns -- remain less popular than those of the Democrats. Overall confidence in Republican candidates is no higher than it was three years ago.

Unprompted answers to a question about what it means to be a Republican showed the most frequent response is that Republicans are for the "rich, powerful, monied interest{s}." Such descriptions were volunteered by 51 percent of those interviewed this year, compared to just 18 percent in 1987.

On the other hand, only 16 percent now volunteer that being a Democrat means being "for working people," down from 21 percent in 1987.

Overall, the survey found a sharp increase in distrust of politics and politicians, concentrated among people with less than $50,000 annual income and apparently linked to a growing sense of economic inequality and futility. Almost four out of five of those interviewed agreed mostly or completely with the statement that "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer."

Blacks are more politically alienated than whites at all income levels, but the biggest increases in cynicism came among lower- and middle-income whites. The percentage of people in the $30,000- $50,000 family income bracket completely agreeing with the statement that "generally speaking, elected officials in Washington lose touch with the people pretty quickly" almost doubled in the past three years.

Overall, Republicans have improved their position vis-a-vis Democrats since the first Times Mirror survey was taken in May 1987. "But you have to wonder why they haven't done better," Kohut said in an interview.

A good part of the answer, the survey said, lies in the GOP's increasing identification with "rich and monied interests." David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union and a veteran Republican campaign consultant, called the finding significant but not surprising. "Ronald Reagan kept his distance from the establishment," he said. "But George Bush, by way of personality, background and breeding, has embraced the very thing most people feel alienated from. So they feel politically homeless today."

Another factor is the Republicans' "failure to convert" under-40-year-old voters attracted by Reagan to support of the GOP. These voters, called "Upbeats" in the survey report because of their optimism about America's future, tend to be moderates in their social and economic views. While they prefer the Republicans to the Democrats by a 9-to-1 ratio overall, less than half of them (45 percent) say the Republican Party better represents their views on abortion, while 32 percent prefer the Democratic Party on that issue.

Looking at the survey as a whole, Kohut said, "the Democratic Party clearly has worse problems" than the GOP. Most serious may be the growing disaffection of a group called the "partisan poor," a low-income, less-educated group of voters, two-thirds of them white and one-third black, who strongly support domestic welfare programs and in the past have been the most reliably Democratic constituency in the country. Their support for Democrats has dropped by one-third in the last three years -- from 89 to 57 percent. Few have become Republicans but many express sharply increased doubts about the candidates the Democrats nominate and their party's ability to bring about the kind of changes they think the country needs.

Howard University political scientist Ronald Walters, an adviser to Jesse L. Jackson, said the findings dramatize "the struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party. The people like {Democratic National Committee Chairman} Ron Brown who say the Democrats should pitch for the middle class have assumed the party could always retain its working-class base. But we saw a substantial decline in turnout in low-income areas in 1988. Public policy has not favored low-income people and there are not many champions out there for that sector of the population. They are responding by withdrawing their support from the Democratic Party."