Survey Shows Barry Ahead of the Pack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 19, 1998; Page A01
As Mayor Marion Barry ponders whether to seek a fifth term, a Washington Post survey shows he holds a commanding lead over the top three Democratic candidates, but the majority of District residents give him a negative performance rating, and two-thirds say he should not run again.
Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Barry if he decides to run again. The three leading announced candidates, all members of the D.C. Council, trailed behind, with Harold Brazil (D-At Large) drawing 16 percent, Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) 15 percent and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) 10 percent.
"Whether I would win or not is not even a question in my mind," Barry said yesterday. He said The Post's survey "substantiates what I've been saying: If I were to run [against] who is out there -- Evans, Chavous and Brazil -- I would beat all of them."
Chavous stands to benefit the most if Barry opts not to run. One-third of Barry's supporters -- 34 percent -- said they would shift to Chavous, while 21 percent would vote for Brazil and 12 percent for Evans, the poll found. Barry supporters also were far more likely to have a favorable impression of Chavous, while a majority said they were unfamiliar with Evans or Brazil.
Without Barry in the race, Chavous forges narrowly ahead. The survey showed the three-way race at 26 percent for Chavous, 24 percent for Brazil and 15 percent for Evans.
The poll, based on random telephone interviews with 1,002 adults conducted May 11-17, also found that many Barry supporters may stay home if the mayor decides not to run. One in six said they wouldn't vote for any of the three other leading contenders. Nearly as many Barry supporters were undecided.
"I really like Barry, even though he's been catching the brunt of everything that's going on," said Stanya Minter, 37, a teacher's aide in the D.C. public schools who lives in Ward 5. "I believe the other [candidates] are sincere in helping us, but Barry has been here all along, and I really believe he is sincere about helping people."
After serving as mayor for 16 of the 24 years since the beginning of home rule, Barry continues to divide city residents along racial and class lines, retaining a strong base of support in the African American community. Citywide, he engendered an even larger group of staunch opponents -- 36 percent -- who say absolutely they would not vote for him.
Blacks and whites diverge substantially in assessing Barry's job performance. Nearly half of all African Americans -- 46 percent -- said they approved of the job that Barry is doing as mayor, essentially unchanged from a Post survey conducted in May 1997.
But among whites, only 9 percent approved of Barry's job performance, while 84 percent disapproved -- with 63 percent saying they strongly disapproved.
Barry's overall rating remains low, with 35 percent saying they approved of the way he has handled his job and 52 percent saying they disapproved. Barry's approval rating was up from a year ago, when a Post survey showed that 31 percent approved and 63 percent disapproved, but it was still way down from March 1995, shortly after his return to office, when 58 percent approved and just 27 percent disapproved.
"I have voted for him in the past, but I will not vote for him this time," said Earl Ashton, 66, a retired city worker from Ward 4 who now drives a cab part time. "I don't think he can be effective, and I think at this point, Congress is really against him."
Beyond Barry's high negatives, the poll showed the significance of race in this year's mayoral election: Half of those interviewed said it was important that the next District mayor be an African American.
Among Barry supporters, seven in 10 said it was important that the next mayor be black, a view shared by 57 percent of Brazil's supporters and 56 percent of those who supported Chavous. Even one-third of those who said they would vote for Evans said it was at least "somewhat important" that the District have a black mayor.
Brazil and Chavous are African Americans; Evans is white.
Although the mayor is at once the District's most popular and most unpopular candidate, with loyal supporters but extremely high negatives, Brazil, Chavous and Evans have low negatives but only tepid support among their own constituencies. The main problem all three face is that they're largely unknown.
Four in 10 of the Democrats surveyed said they don't know enough about Brazil or Chavous to have an impression, while a larger number -- six in 10 -- say they're unfamiliar with Evans.
But those who know Barry's rivals generally like them. Among those who said they knew enough to offer a view, the proportion of those with favorable views of Chavous, Brazil and Evans outnumbered those with unfavorable views by 2 to 1 or more.
Among Democrats, 46 percent had a favorable impression of Chavous, while 11 percent expressed a negative view. Brazil was viewed positively by 42 percent and unfavorably by 16 percent, while 29 percent said they have a positive view of Evans and 11 percent said they viewed him unfavorably.
But among their supporters, fewer than one-third are committed to their man. That contrasts sharply with Barry backers, three in four of whom say they "strongly" support their candidate. Those numbers point to the difficult task Brazil, Chavous and Evans would face in trying to win votes from the mayor. And they suggest that Barry's three rivals will have to eventually target one another -- and not Barry -- if they are to win the Democratic primary.
Although the sample sizes are too small to draw firm conclusions, Barry claimed the support of more than half of the voters interviewed in his home base of Ward 8, as well as four in 10 interviewed voters in Ward 5. Brazil did better in Wards 3, 5 and 6. Evans's support was centered in Ward 2 and Ward 3. Chavous fared well in his home district, Ward 7, and challenged Barry in Ward 4.
"We got a good horse race here," Brazil said, adding that he was surprised to see Barry so far ahead of the field in The Post's poll.
Brazil said he is assuming Barry will not run.
"And even if he stays in, I think the negatives will come to haunt him," Brazil said. "There's a lot to drive home. We'll whittle his lead down, by virtue of his negatives."
Evans said there was nothing in The Post's survey that surprised or discouraged him.
"For the most part, the people who know me, like me. There is a large group who don't have an opinion," Evans said. "Probably two and a half to three months from now, you'll have a much better sense of how we've gotten our message out, and the mayor will have made up his mind."
Many Barry supporters expressed mixed emotions about whether he should seek another term, with 47 percent of those who voted for him in 1994 saying he should not run again. Paradoxically, 23 percent of those who said they would vote for him also said they don't want him to seek reelection.
A majority of African Americans -- 57 percent -- and nine out of 10 white District residents oppose a Barry reelection bid. But opposition may be weakening among African Americans: A year ago, 72 percent said Barry should not seek another term.
Barry also improved his standing with substantial numbers of low-income and blue-collar black residents, voters who were the key to his comeback victory four years ago. Currently, 41 percent of all African Americans with annual household incomes of less than $20,000 said Barry should seek another term, up from 29 percent last year. Among blacks who make more than $50,000 a year, Barry's popularity remained largely unchanged, with about one in five favoring a reelection bid by the mayor.
Among college-educated Democrats, a group that is disproportionately but not exclusively white, a majority said they would not vote for Barry. Among Democrats with a high school education or less, only one in six say they can be counted on not to vote for Barry if he runs this year.
"I hate to say this, but Marion Barry has created so much animosity," said Charles Fordton, 69, a retired psychologist who lives in Ward 4. "When I travel abroad, I don't even say I'm from Washington, D.C."
Assistant polling director Claudia Deane and staff writer Pamela Constable contributed to this report.
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