The Times Mirror for The People and The Press said yesterday a national poll it took last month showed that 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*

Headline writers found reason for pungent characterization of election results in Massachusetts and Oklahoma this week. "The voters roar," said the Wall Street Journal after the returns were known. The New York Times found in the ballot behavior evidence of an "electoral powder keg," while The Washington Post described it as a "display of anger" by voters that "puts incumbents on notice."

These came after similar remarks, including commentary in this space, about a throw-'em-out mood that was reflective of a voter protest "against politics as usual" and could be divined from returns in local primary elections here and throughout the country the previous week.

The latest results, producing ouster of well-established incumbents in Massachusetts and overwhelming approval of an initiative to limit terms of Oklahoma officeholders, led some politicians to liken the mood to a tidal wave. Get rid of them all and start fresh, the message seems to be.

Don't count on it. However valid that desire, the likely result of November's congressional balloting is that most incumbents will be reelected and the politics of the status quo further solidified, at least for now.

That doesn't mean the preliminary voter signals are wrong or inconsequential. Voter disgust with politics and politicians is increasing significantly. Accompanying this is a rise in cynicism about the workings of the American governmental/political system.

The evidence is unmistakable. Last Sunday, for instance, a grass-roots survey of voters in Illinois by five Post reporters led to a dispiriting conclusion about political attitudes there: "Somber and cynical, the voters of Illinois, like their counterparts across America, face the November election with grave concerns about the country's future and equally grave doubts that politics and politicians offer them much hope."

These findings mirrored those of a more extensive, but equally disturbing, Times Mirror Co. national survey made public Wednesday. This one was the product of personal interviews with 3,004 representative Americans nationally during May, one-third of whom were reinterviewed at the end of August to reflect attitudes since the Persian Gulf crisis began. It portrays the American electorate as being in a state of destructive political gridlock, and its conclusions are as strong as they are negative.

"Despite the personal popularity of President Bush," it stated, "cynicism toward the political system is growing as the public in unprecedented numbers associates Republicans with wealth and greed, Democrats with fecklessness and incompetence.

"This cynicism, combined with increased economic polarization among Americans at all but the wealthiest levels (especially among the poor and minority populations), threatens to subvert traditional partisan politics or block the effective resolution of social and economic issues."

The survey results describe a dramatic decline in voter support for the Democratic Party: "Today, it is judged even by its core constituents as incapable of governing America successfully and unclear what it should stand for." Voters now have even less confidence in the ability of Democrats to manage government than they did during the disastrous campaign of Michael S. Dukakis in 1988.

At the same time, Republicans have been unable to capitalize on their success in winning the White House in five of the last six presidential elections and on Bush's high popularity ratings. That's "because the GOP itself is now seen by a majority of the public as the political instrument of the nation's rich and powerful," the survey said.

In just the last three years, the percentage of Americans who associate Republicans with rich and moneyed interests rose from 18 to 51. Along with this came a fivefold increase in the number of people who describe Republicans as "not being for the people."

Neither party wins.

As for pervasive cynicism, consider this: 78 percent of the American public subscribes to the old, cynical proposition that, in this supposed land of opportunity, "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

These findings, it is important to note, were based on opinions offered even before people had witnessed the latest disgraceful budget deficit charade in which Washington politicians continue to fiddle while the national economic house trembles.

Question, fellow citizens: Is anyone, anywhere, surprised at the conclusions? The unsurprising answer is a resounding no.

Prediction: The cataclysm may not be here quite yet, but it's ever more inevitable.