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Election 09: Progressive, anti-Eyman voters are not only in King County

Progressive voting blocs tend to be close to Puget Sound, and this core is expanding and holding steady. The exceptions: Pierce, Mason, and Clallam. Clark County is a key swing area.
Puget Sound

Puget Sound National Marine Sanctuary

Voting patterns on statewide initiatives and referendums tell us something about the strength of Washington’s progressives and conservatives, and the results of 2009 balloting are quite similar to elections of 2007 and 2008. The closer a voter is to Puget Sound, the greater the chances for support for the progressive campaign, and it’s not only King County.

In the last three years, three Tim Eyman initiatives and three other major proposals have been on the ballot. The consensus progressive stance was generally to oppose the Eyman initiatives and to support domestic-partner rights (R-71), physician-assisted suicide (I-1000, 2008) and an education-funding measure (HJR 4204, 2007). The progressive view prevailed on five of the six measures, yielding only on Eyman’s tax limitation (I-960) in 2007.

King County is always the 800-pound gorilla, as voters in Eastern Washington are prone to lament, but there is increasing solidarity around the Sound as well. In this election only Pierce and Mason of the 12 counties touching the Sound voted against domestic-partners’ rights and for Eyman’s Measure 1033. The others all joined King County’s voting pattern over the last three years.

This Puget Sound voting bloc (if such exists) has hardened since 2007, when only government-employee-rich Thurston and wealthy retiree counties San Juan and Jefferson voted solidly with King on both the education measure and Eyman’s I-960. This “gang of four” was solid in 2002 against Eyman’s car-tabs measure, joined by Kitsap, and solid against the 2005 effort to repeal the gas-tax increase, joined by all the Puget Sound counties except Mason and Clallum.

Statewide balloting isn’t tallied by counties, of course, and those red-and-blue maps are very deceiving, with huge red swaths covering a relative handful of people. But the regional pattern of Washington voting points increasingly to the importance of voters in a few swing areas, notably Clark County in Southwest Washington, Skagit and Whatcom in the Northwest corner, and Spokane and Whitman on the far eastern side.

Skagit and Whatcom are moving increasingly to the left, and on some votes Spokane and Whitman join them — but not on social issues, such as domestic-partner or assisted-suicide. Clark is a true wild card but inclined to support Eyman and adopt a conservative view on social issues. The county is in many ways the reverse-mirror of Oregon’s Multnomah County across the Columbia.

Ballot measures carry no party labels, so in many ways they are a better picture of the state’s social climate than partisan races. The regional patterns, particularly on domestic-partners and assisted-suicide measures, reinforce the progressive-Puget Sound and conservative-Eastern Washington image of the state, with the conservatives also likely to pick up support in the southeastern corner.

Based on the trend lines of the past three statewide elections, the progressive core abutting Puget Sound is hardening and growing outside King County. Six of the state’s ten fastest-growing counties touch Puget Sound, of which only military-base-rich Pierce remains outside the progressive tent.

Must be something in the water.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.

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Posted Wed, Nov 4, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Anyone who claims to know the mind, and direction, of the independent voter is all wet, and a quack, var. D or var. R.

Posted Wed, Nov 4, 7:01 p.m. Inappropriate

The author writes: "Voting patterns on statewide initiatives and referendums tell us something about the strength of Washington’s progressives and conservatives..."

What ever happened to liberals, anyway? Is "liberal" now a dirty word? I doubt that the truly progressive founders of this state would agree that the failed policies of the New Deal would constitute progress. In a few years "progressive" will be equally tainted and there will be need of another term. I'd suggest "conservative." Wasn't that what the press called Russia's defenders of the Soviet Union's entrenched establishment in the 1990s?


Posted Thu, Nov 5, 2:24 a.m. Inappropriate

yes liberal is somewhat a dirty word. Early in the 20th century people like Eugene Debs openly called themselves 'socialists.' But as socialism became unpopular, the label 'liberalism' was adopted in the 50's & 60's. This appealed to the hippie culture of the time--free thought, free love, etc. But as baby boomers grew older, they realized it was just a form of collectivism & the polar opposite of freedom, so 'liberalism' became unpopular. For the last decade or so there has been a move to use the label 'progressivism.' I doubt that 1 person in 1000 could articulate the differences between 'liberalism' and 'progressivism' (if there are any) but we use the words nonetheless. Probably if Democrats start to lose elections again as they did in the 90's they will come up with yet another label.


Posted Thu, Nov 5, 9:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Generally a perceptive analysis. I'd add that the progressive-conservative polarization is increasingly based on education and occupation (a.k.a "class") which helps us understand why Pierce and Cowlitz (Longview) and Clark , with large blue-collar populations vote conservatively on social issues. This was evident too in the Maine vote on gay marriage.


Posted Thu, Nov 5, 3:35 p.m. Inappropriate

To be fair, Pierce County is only passing I-1033 with 50.27% of the vote (as of the time of this post). That's a virtual tie.

Pierce is rejecting R-71 with 53.08% of the vote, which is a much more significant margin, although it's far from a blowout.

Posted Thu, Nov 5, 5:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Eyman has greatly eased the voting decision process for many people. If an initiative has his name attached to it in any way, one simply votes against it.

Question. Why didn't Constantine nail Hutchison for her "He is slinging mud" response when Constantine simply pointed out the fact that Hutchison is totally and thoroughly Republican from all her money history and membership history. Is pointing out a simple fact equal to mud throwing? Why didn't he force her to admit the truth?

Also, what went through the heads of the Democrats who went along with this non-partisan designation for county executive? Couldn't any idiot see that the real result would be stealth GOP candidates like Hutchison?


Posted Fri, Nov 6, 3:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Well Clallum may not fit with Mason and Pierce. It was one of ten counties that voted against I-1033 and to approve R-71. The other nine were: King, Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Thurston, Jefferson, Kitsap, San Juan and Snohomish. It does look like a Salish Sea group.

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