It's an election year and everyone wants to know who's running Washington. The answer: runners.

According to a recent Washington Post survey, 20 percent of the people in the Washington area list running as their main or secondary form of exercise.

Phil Stewart, president of the D.C. Road Runner's Club said, "The 20 percent surprises me a little. Who's running the government while all these folks are out jogging? But it must be true, because it's getting tougher to get into the Cherry Blossom every year."

The survey clearly showed that the running boom is still coming through loud and clear. Nearly one-third of the people who said they exercised said they ran or jogged at least occasionally.

There were other indications that running has become a cultural imperative. When people were asked how frequently they participated in a sport. 23 percent of the runners said they participated frequently, and 17 percent said they participated somewhat.

In every one of the 14 other activies probed, more people said they took part somewhat rather than frequently.

That is one measure of the intensity runners seem to share. They do not tend to dilettantes. Among the runners who said they ran frequently, the median amount of time they usually spend at each week is 7.6 hours, compared to the 6.5 hours most people exercised.

Stewart said, "Running is the only sport where satisfication is linked to training. I'll bet my training flats that none of the Redskins is looking forward to tomorrow's practice. But most runners either want to be able to pad their training logs or at least talk about it."

The survey also revealed that runningis the only sport where the people joining the ranks outnumber those leaving them: 32 percent of the respondents said they run more now than two years ago; 22 percent run less. Once again, the percentages were reversed for all other sports.

This finding did not surprise many runners. Joanne Mallet, 46, said, "You have to work up to a certain level in running and you don't want to lose it. You may swim only a couple of months a year, but you won't forget how to swim. When you run, you want to keep the level you worked so hard to attain. Besides, your legs get sore if you miss a day."

The poll also showed that running, which was once considered to be the province of white, middle-class, highly educated males, has become the sport of all the people.

Only 31 percent of the women questioned said they never jogged. "Two years ago, it would have been 90 percent," Stewart said.

According to the poll, blacks are increasingly turning to jogging for exercise: 59 percent of the black runners said they jog as much or more now than they did two years ago, compared to 50 percent of white runners.

Bill Sollers, 41, of Hyattsville, started running in 1973. "You didn't see hardly any blacks then," he said. "There's been an increase, but it's hard to measure. It's getting so popular even young guys are doing it."

And the old guys, 35 percent of the people 50 years and older who run, say they run as much or more now than they did two years ago.

Perhaps the best indication of just how many people are on the run today is the number who said they have never run. In the age group of 50 and older, 43 percent had never run; in the group 30-49, the number dropped to 27 percent, but among the 18-29 year-olds, only 17 percent had never gone running.