A majority of the District of Columbia residents interviewed Sunday said they are opposed to the reelection of Mayor Marion Barry, according to poll results released yesterday by WRC-TV News and the Associated Press.
Barry and Patricia Roberts Harris, a cabinet member in the Carter administration, are the early front-runners among five announced Democratic candidates, according to the poll of 439 persons characterized as likely voters in the fall election.
Harris and Barry did at least three times as well as any of the other three candidates in the poll--City Council members Betty Ann Kane, John Ray and John A. Wilson.
However, almost one-quarter of those interviewed said they were independents and Republicans--people who would be ineligible to vote in the Democratic primary Sept. 14. For that reason, the poll's findings are at best a rough gauge of voter sentiment.
Nevertheless, the poll's findings contained some bad news for incumbent Barry:
* Forty-eight percent of those interviewed said Barry has done an "only fair" job as mayor while another 21 percent rated his performance as "poor." Twenty-seven percent rated the mayor as either good or excellent, while the rest said they were not sure.
* When asked whom they would most like to see elected mayor in the fall, about 51 percent of those interviewed said they were not sure. Twenty-two percent said Barry, 16 percent Harris and 11 percent someone else. However, when the names of the five candidates were listed, Harris was chosen by 32 percent, Barry, 27, Kane, 9, Ray, 6, and Wilson 4. The remainder--21 percent in all--volunteered that they were undecided.
* On the question of responsiveness of city government, however, respondents appeared evenly divided. About one-fourth of those interviewed felt the government was more responsive than several years ago and about one-fourth felt it was less responsive. The remainder said either that they were unsure or that responsiveness was about the same.
Eighty percent of the respondents said they had had no problems dealing with the city government in the past year. When asked if electing a new mayor would lead to better city services, 38 percent replied in the affirmative, 41 percent negative and 21 percent said they were not sure.
A member of the team that conducted the poll, which was taken by telephone last Sunday, said yesterday that there is a 6 percent chance of error in the findings, making it unclear whether Harris is the leading candidate.
The registered voters participating in the poll conform to the party allegiances of all the city's registered voters--76.8 percent Democrats, 8.8 percent Republicans and 13 percent independents, the team member said, but was unable to give a breakdown of the results among Democrats only.
A spokeswoman for Barry said yesterday that the mayor said he found the results "interesting" but that he "has made a practice of not commenting on polls and the only one he is interested in is the people's poll on Sept. 14."
Harris, clearly buoyed by the survey's findings, called an afternoon press conference at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel downtown and said the poll results confirmed her own feelings after months of small meetings with city residents that they want new leadership for the city.
"I didn't expect the confirmation to come quite so dramatically, though," she said.
"I consider myself still the underdog in the race," Harris added. "The incumbent always has a tremendous advantage . . . even in instances where the incumbent was defeated , the incumbent always did better than if they had been a challenger."
Kane said the poll puts to rest claims that District voters would not elect a woman since she and Harris scored better than the three men in the poll. She noted that she did better than Wilson and Ray--both of whom have already begun advertising campaigns.
"The most significant numbers are for Marion's job rating. Only 27 percent think he's doing a good job. That means almost three-quarters of the voters don't want Marion Barry," Kane said. "They are undecided or they want someone else."
Ray said, "That amount of undecided voters at this point indicates, one, great dissatisfaction with Marion and, two, that when people were then asked who they would vote for they said the person whose name they knew best, Pat Harris.
"We won't really know if Pat Harris is a strong candidate until she is campaigning and people have a chance to see her positions on the issues ," he said.
Wilson said the poll indicates that City Council members who are challenging the mayor may have difficulty separating themselves from a city government that has been viewed as not performing well under Barry.
The poll also asked the same participants to rate Ronald Reagan as president. Fifty-six percent said they thought Reagan was doing a poor job, 28 percent only fair, 11 percent good, 2 percent excellent. Three percent of those polled said they were not sure.