American voters, storing much of their disdain for politicians for possible use another day, still managed to shake up the electoral map of the nation in yesterday's voting and signal to both parties their impatience with the performance of people in office.

President Bush saw his vital southern base erode, with gubernatorial losses in Florida and Texas, two states where he had campaigned particularly hard. Tax revolts that undermined gubernatorial incumbents of both parties immediately fueled complaints from conservatives that Bush had forfeited a Republican opportunity by abandoning his no-new-taxes pledge and signing a budget compromise on the eve of the election.

While reelecting an overwhelming majority of incumbents in the House and Senate, voters changed party control of governorships in at least eight states and threw a scare into such prominent younger politicians as Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

While Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a lion of the right wing, won a close reelection victory, many of the night's winners rejected ideology and emotionalism in favor of good-government appeals. The mixed partisan verdict seemed likely to strengthen moderates in both parties against the ideological extremes.

The returns were still coming in when the first Democratic presidential hopeful tossed his hat toward the 1992 ring. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), fresh from carrying all of his state's 95 counties for reelection, said, "I will sit down and take a good hard look at it."

Strategists in both parties saw strong voter resistance to taxes as a driving force in the election. Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said, "Taxes have become the flash point for the frustration people feel with what's been going on in government. They're not going to stand for government as usual."

Alvin From, director of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, said the anti-tax sentiment evident everywhere from Massachusetts and New Jersey to Nebraska and Kansas "shot down a lot of false hopes {among Democrats} that strident populism would work. Democrats have to come down on the side of expanding opportunity, not feeding government," he said.

Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin agreed, citing the squeaker reelection of New Jersey's Bradley as an example. Wirthlin said Bradley was leading his unknown challenger 71 percent to 18 percent "before she tied him to the {Gov. Jim} Florio {D} tax increase." David Mason of the Heritage Foundation argued that because the electorate was clearly sensitive to taxes, "it is evident that if Republicans had stuck with their no-tax position, they could have really had a big victory this year. Bush cost them a big opportunity. As it is, it's still not a bad year for the Republicans."

Despite the disappointment with Florida and Texas, it was not as serious a defeat as some GOP strategists had expected a few weeks ago. Wirthlin said that once the federal budget deficit agreement had been achieved and Bush refocused public attention on the Persian Gulf, the gap between generic Republican and Democratic support levels narrowed from 14 points to 4 points in 10 days' time.

Partial returns showed Republicans with a net loss of fewer than five House seats and none in the Senate -- indicating that the swing to the Democrats was smaller than in either 1982 or 1986. Republicans recovered handsomely from those midterm losses to win the following presidential campaigns.

Still, Paul Tully, political director of the Democratic National Committee, crowed over the Democratic gubernatorial victories in the Sun Belt states. "We won in the part of the country that is growing," he said, noting those wins will translate to advantages in the redistricting of the expanded House delegations from Florida and Texas. Republican National Committee spokesman Charles Black countered with the claim that it was "a very good Republican night -- for a midterm election."

The GOP bright spots included takeovers of the Ohio and Massachusetts governorships and the election of the first black Republican representative in Connecticut.

Democratic strategist Tom Donilon was not alone when he commented that in the weeks leading up to the election, "Bush has done less for his party than any president I can remember -- and may have hurt them."

Rep. Jim Leach (Iowa), a moderate Republican and longtime Bush supporter, said that despite heavy stumping by Bush, the election was marked by "no vision, no message, no substance, no passion and no choice."

"The only demand was for change," Leach said, "so there's bound to be a letdown."

Election Day interviews with those who voted confirmed preelection polls showing the electorate was gloomy on the country's future, concerned about the economy and dissatisfied with the quality of leadership that politicians of both parties have been providing.

Almost every defeat could be linked to public dissatisfaction with specific actions of the individual in power. Florida voters ousted Gov. Bob Martinez (R), who had supported an unpopular sales tax on services and then worked to repeal it in the face of public protest.

Ohio voters rejected the gubernatorial candidacy of the incumbent attorney general, Anthony Celebrezze (D), in large part because he was part of a two-term Democratic administration marked by many scandals.

The abortion issue was present in both those states, but did not dominate -- and that was apparently the case in most races. Martinez's successful challenger, former senator Lawton Chiles (D), favored abortion rights, but Celebrezze's conqueror, former Cleveland mayor George Voinovich (R), has an antiabortion position. Exit polls indicated abortion was a significant issue in the California governorship but not in the North Carolina Senate race.

Once again, voters' familiarity with congressional incumbents and the incumbents' vast financial advantages served to cushion them from the impulse for change.

Eddie Mahe, a Republican campaign consultant, commented that in the 10 days of campaign time they had left after Congress adjourned, "Most of these people went home and made themselves look like heroes again." But Mahe also speculated that a frustrated public means "you're just storing up a lot of pressure in the system for change."

Polls showed ballot initiatives to limit terms of legislators likely to pass in Colorado and with a good chance of winning in California.

Reduced margins for many House incumbents could well bring them tougher opponents in 1992 and increase the possibility of major partisan shifts in the next election year.

In four states, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas and Kentucky, for example, 15 of the 22 incumbents on the ballot had reduced victory margins from 1988. The average falloff was slightly over 8 percent.

Bush, who counted on solid support from the Dixie states to win both nomination and election in 1988, had most of his bets riding on the key Sun Belt governorships in Florida, Texas and California. Martinez, an early ally in 1988, went down to defeat, taking at least two House incumbents with him. Democrat Ann Richards defeated Republican Clayton Williams in Texas, and the California race was hanging in the balance. "It's a bad night for the president if he loses any two of those three," Donilon commented.

But South Carolina Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. (R), who led the Bush forces in the South in 1988 and won a handsome reelection victory yesterday, said: "I don't see any trend adverse to us. If we pick up Michigan, Massachusetts and Ohio, I'd call it a net plus."

Exit polls showed as many as one-third of the 1988 Bush voters supporting Democratic candidates for top offices yesterday. Preliminary figures indicated that Republican strategists were justified in fearing that their constituents would be disheartened and that young voters who gave Bush and President Ronald Reagan their biggest margins would not be motivated to vote.

Exit polls in four states with hot contests -- California, Illinois, Massachusetts and North Carolina -- showed that 18-to-29-year-olds averaged less than 15 percent of the electorateyesterday, compared with 22 percent of the national electorate in 1988. By contrast, those over 60 -- the New Deal generation -- averaged 25 percent of yesterday's electorate in the four states, compared with 17 percent nationally in 1988.

Even worse, in its implications for the GOP's future, only one of the four Republicans in the banner races in those states -- Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate William Weld -- was able to gain an even split in the youngest age group, where Bush had enjoyed a 10-point margin in 1988.

Looking ahead to the next presidential race, all but one of the potential 1992 Democratic contenders who were on the ballot yesterday cleared their hurdles comfortably. New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Sens. Gore of Tennessee and John D. Rockefelller IV of West Virginia and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri all were reelected. Jesse L. Jackson was elected "shadow senator" in the District.

But Bradley of New Jersey had to struggle for a third term against a protest tide triggered by the tax hikes put in earlier this year by Gov. Jim Florio (D). And Cuomo received just over 50 percent of the vote, with his Republican and Conservative Party rivals splitting the rest almost evenly.

Political researcher Bruce Brown contributed to this report.