When strategists for a beverage industry coalition opposing the bottle bill polled District residents in March, they learned to their dismay that 70 percent of D.C. voters approved the idea and only 20 percent were opposed.

The industry group then shrewdly devised a plan that would capitalize on the city's racial and economic divisions. With a record $2 million to spend, they hammered at pocketbook issues, stirred the anxieties of the elderly and aroused black voters' resentment toward an idea contrived by white environmentalists.

It worked. On Tuesday, the beverage industry coalition opposed to Initiative 28 turned its initial voter deficit into a rout of the bottle deposit proposal, winning by 55 percent to 45 percent and providing a textbook example of D.C. electioneering.

"It just shows you that whites and blacks view the city totally differently," said one of the industry group's pollsters, Keith Frederick. "I think it's got to do with orientation toward the city."

Results of the vote on Initiative 28, which would have placed deposits of 5 to 20 cents on carbonated beverage containers, divided cleanly along racial lines, a pattern similar to past District elections.

Precincts carried by deposit opponents in this contest -- which hinged on an issue, not a personality -- were nearly identical to those won by Mayor Marion Barry in his 1986 reelection campaign. In both elections, victory hinged on capturing the heavy-voting bloc of predominantly black Wards 4, 5 and 7.

In those areas, the industry group fashioned a sophisticated game plan that brought out black voters in numbers far higher than are typical of an off-year election -- but stirred allegations that the group bought the election.

"People said they bought me off," said the Rev. Imagene Stewart, president of the D.C. Women's Clergy Association and a deposit opponent who accepted a $350 contribution from the industry group for a shelter she runs. "This is a campaign, honey. People who don't understand money have no business in politics."

Although the pattern of voting was stark, District politicians yesterday differed sharply on the significance of race.

D.C. Council member John Ray (D-At Large), who is black, said it was "more an economic issue than a racial issue," while Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), a white council member who has won several citywide elections, said the election turned more on concerns about the environment.

"It was more an ideological split than a racial one," Kane said. "It certainly was not an economic split."

But results showed black voters overwhelmingly opposed to Initiative 28 in affluent areas as well as in low-income neighborhoods. On upper 16th Street NW in Ward 4, for instance, where some of the District's most well-to-do blacks live, voters rejected Initiative 28 more than 2-to-1.

Such voting, said Ward 2 Democratic activist Gottlieb Simon, "certainly raises the possibility it was not income, not ecology, but race" that determined the outcome.

On a map of the District's 140 precincts, a picture of the racial split in Tuesday's results emerges with striking clarity. In white precincts in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6, Initiative 28 received overwhelming support. In black precincts in Ward 6 and the city's other four wards -- 4, 5, 7 and 8 -- voters just as resoundingly rejected the deposit measure.

The results were no accident. Rather, polling and consulting experts working for the industry coalition early in the campaign had fashioned a strategy based on differences they perceived between black and white voters in the District -- differences in attitudes about the city and about the effects the industry claimed deposits would have.

"There is a very large black middle-class that feels very responsible about the city. We knew early on that we had a chance with those voters," said Frederick, of the national polling and consulting firm of Hamilton, Frederick & Schneiders.

"We thought we could show them that Initiative 28 was irresponsible," Frederick said, "and that a vote for the initiative was an irresponsible vote."

According to Frederick, the industry's poll of 800 District voters last March showed that support for Initiative 28 was "soft" because, while the main reason for deposits would be to reduce litter, only 1 percent of those polled said they thought litter in the city "was a problem."

Among the "soft" voters were lower-income black blacks who, according to the survey, responded to arguments that deposits would raise beverage prices and create inconvenience.

The multipronged industry game plan focused on the self-interests of lower-income voters on the price issue. Among more affluent blacks, Frederick said, the industry campaign intended to appeal to community spirit, posing the question: "What does {Initiative 28} do to D.C. business and what does it do to people who are less fortunate?"

Such an appeal would have far less effect on white voters, Frederick said, whose "only experience" in the District "is a narrow geographic experience" in mostly white neighborhoods.

Essential to the industry strategy was enlisting dozens of black political operatives and community activists who were paid to take the antideposit message to black communities. Frederick said it also was essential to get support from the city's black ministers, about 130 of whom lent their names to the opposition campaign after being approached by former council chairman Sterling Tucker, a paid spokesman for the industry group.

For months during the debate, backers of the initiative complained about what they described as a "whisper campaign" in which opponents in black communities told voters that the bottle proposal was a white concern being foisted on black neighborhoods.

Those complaints intensified in the final days of the battle when industry-sponsored newspaper advertisements appeared saying, "You can tell a lot about an issue by who supports it and who opposes it."

The ad listed a handful of organizations in white neighborhoods as "for" the initiative, including the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Capitol Hill Gardening Club. Then it listed more than three dozen black leaders and organizations "against" the bottle bill, including the NAACP and Operation PUSH. Initiative proponents said the ad failed to mention numerous black leaders and civic associations who supported deposits.

Kathryn Pearson-West, an unsuccessful Ward 5 school board candidate and president of the North Michigan Park Civic Association, said many black voters in her area of Northeast resented the idea that they would have to accept the burdens of a law proposed by whites from another part of town.

"It appeared to be more of a white issue," West said. "It was almost like they were trying to impose something on us."

In West's Precinct 66, nearly 1,300 voters turned out to cast ballots against Initiative 28, more than four times the number who voted for deposits.

West said voters there, a solid middle-class area, also were concerned about deposits raising prices and sending shoppers to nearby Prince George's County.

Except for the precinct surrounding Catholic University, which voted for Initiative 28, the voting against the measure was consistent across Northeast and Southeast Washington -- although there were a few precincts in more affluent areas where the vote margins were less overwhelming.

In racially and economically mixed Southwest, voting was almost evenly split. The two camps met head-on on Capitol Hill, where balloting also divided sharply between white and black neighborhoods.

In Capitol Hill's Precinct 89 -- a solidly white, upscale area that turned out the most intense pro-deposit vote in the city -- local advisory neighborhood commissioner Karen Walker said she was disappointed but not surprised by Tuesday's results.

"I think there was a clear attempt to portray us who are more affluent or more fortunate as people who couldn't care less about those folks who have to get bottles back to the store," Walker said.

But, she said, "in any highly contested campaign, there's an effort to polarize people. It doesn't surprise me that it happened here. And it won't surprise me if it happens again." Staff writers Karlyn Barker, Rene Sanchez and Tom Sherwood contributed to this report.