Tuesday's D.C. City Council primary results indicate little change in the council's traditional moderate-to-liberal stand on social issues, but did show strong support by voters for incumbents and, in general, for candidates known for moderation rather than confrontation.

The lone exception to the favor shown incumbents came in the Democratic primary for Council chairman, where David A. Clarke ousted Chairman Arrington Dixon by putting together a coalition of tenant and housing activists, labor unions and senior citizens that carried him to victory in six of the city's eight wards.

Clarke's victory may have been a special case, combining not only his own formidable campaign organization but also what he now acknowledges was behind-the-scenes help from members of the campaign team of Mayor Marion Barry, who swept to an impressive victory in his race for nomination to a second term.

Clarke said yesterday there was no formal arrangement between his campaign and Barry's. But Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's campaign manager, said Barry's polling information might have been shared with Clarke. David Abramson, Barry's media man, acknowledged that he also served as an adviser to Clarke.

One member of the Council, who asked not to be named, said yesterday that he thought Clarke, unlike Dixon, would be more willing to involve the Council members in policy decisions and developing legislation.

"Arrington distrusted his members more than he distrusted the mayor," the member said. "When you get in that posture -- running around trying to check on the members all the time -- they can beat you."

In a city where the Democratic nomination is in most cases tantamount to election, voters showed little affection for candidates whose political careers have been closely identified with tactics of confrontation.

In the race for the Democratic nomination to an at-large Council seat, incumbent Betty Ann Kane easily defeated school board member Barbara Lett Simmons, a member of a faction that has been central in many of the board's divisive battles. Likewise, in Ward 6, incumbent Nadine P. Winter crushed a challenge from John E. Warren, a member of the same school board group.

In Ward 5, incumbent William R. Spaulding, whose low-key performance perennially attracts a bevy of primary challengers, scored a slim victory over challenger Robert Artisst, but finished far ahead of former Council member Douglas E. Moore, remembered as one of the Council's feistiest and most controversial alumni. In Ward 1, school board member Frank Smith, known as a moderate on the panel, defeated housing activist Marie Nahikian.

In the other Democratic Council primary race, Ward 3 incumbent Polly Shackleton won convincingly over challengers Ruth Dixon and Mark Plotkin, in a race that was characterized less by issues than by Shackleton's long record of service to the mostly white and affluent ward lying west of Rock Creek Park.

Clarke, 38, in his first bid for city-wide office, created a political organization that brought him 40,702 votes, according to unofficial returns. Clarke, who is white, attracted a broad base of support from both blacks and whites.

Dixon, seeking a second term, received 25,950 votes and carried Wards 7 and 8, both east of the Anacostia River, the only wards not taken by Clarke. Former Council chairman Sterling Tucker, attempting a political comeback after his 1978 defeat in the mayor's race, came in third, with 24,555 votes, after entering the race at the last minute.

"We went to everybody with approaches that we thought were right," Clarke said yesterday, describing his low-budget, $100,000 campaign that concentrated on extensive leafleting to targeted groups. "I think the public wanted . . . people who were real and stood for something."

Clarke, who had thought race would play a role in the campaign and in May backed out, only to reenter in June, carried even Ward 4, the predominantly black, mostly affluent area of upper Northwest where Tucker lives and from which Dixon was twice elected to the Council.

Clarke also carried mostly black Ward 5, in near Northeast, rolling up 4,997 votes there compared with 4,531 for Tucker and 4,412 for Dixon. In the two predominantly black wards he lost, Wards 7 and 8, he finished second, in both cases ahead of Tucker and behind Dixon.

"The election has put to the side that District voters will vote on the basis of race," said lawyer Harley Daniels, a Clarke neighbor and adviser who was director of field operations in Tucker's unsuccessful 1978 campaign for mayor. "The issues constituencies that David had put together transcended race," said Daniels. This year, Daniels supported Barry for mayor.

Yesterday, while Clarke relaxed at his home on 17th Street NW, he reviewed his campaign strategy while political leaders around the city began assessing what Clarke's victory could mean for the 13-member Council and the ability of white candidates to win city-wide races in the 70-percent-black District of Columbia.

Clarke said he had sought formal support from the Barry campaign and had been turned down. But Barry campaign manager Donaldson indicated yesterday that there was some give-and-take between the campaigns.

"We didn't formally share [polling data] with him, but Dave Abramson may have talked to Clarke about some of the stuff in the Barry polls that would have been beneficial to his campaign," Donaldson said.

Clarke's strategy in many ways mirrored the come-from-behind approach that Barry used in his own upset victory for mayor in 1978 when he carried Wards 1, 3 and 6 and held his losses in the predominantly black, middle-class Wards 4, 5 and 7.

"Bishop [Walter] McCollough was a singular, pivotal point," Clarke said of his endorsement by the influential leader of the United House of Prayer, which runs housing projects and provides other social services in the inner city.

That endorsement, coveted by both Dixon and Tucker, helped Clarke's campaign contention that he could appeal to all races in the city. But in addition, Clarke said, the endorsement resulted in an influx of campaign workers and support "that went way beyond the House of Prayer. That group is very effective."

Incumbent Council member Hilda H. Mason ran unopposed in the D.C. Statehood Party primary. Under city law, the two of the council's four at-large seats are up every two years, and no one party can occupy more than two of them.