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Inside Politics: Governor's race is a tossup

Undervoting by Republicans in the primary indicates that the Inslee-McKenna race is a dead heat.
Inslee at the "Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency" Awards Dinner

Inslee at the "Evening with the Stars of Energy Efficiency" Awards Dinner Jay Inslee (Flickr)

A week ago  I called the Governor’s race a toss-up, but I also said that based on the results in the primary election, and the most recent available public polling, Democrat Jay Inslee appeared to have “a slight advantage.” Upon further review I want to  amend that statement. Based on all the available evidence this race is dead even.

Why the change in punditry?

First, I have learned of private polling done since the primary that shows the race even closer than the last public poll done by SurveyUSA, which showed Inslee with a lead within the poll’s margin.  Every poll but one since February has shown this race within the margin of error  — statistically tied. The one outlier was the most recent Elway poll, and Elway often produces results inconsistent with what other pollster are finding.

Second, a close look at the final results from the primary indicate that Inslee’s advantage was largely the result of unusually low turnout in Republican counties.  Rob McKenna and three other Republicans combined for just over 47 percent in the primary, while Jay Inslee and one other Democrat received just over 50 percent, a gap a little larger than many expected.

But the explanation becomes obvious when you look at who did and not turn in their primary ballots.  Turnout in this primary was unusually small, 38.5 percent. Among the state’s 10 congressional districts, by far the highest turnout was in the 7th CD, which is primarily the city of Seattle.  Just under 176,000 votes were cast in the 7th, 10 percent higher than the next highest CD, the 6th, (Tacoma, Kitsap, Olympic peninsula) which is also a Democratic district.  In the southwest Washington and eastern Washington 3rd and 4th CDs, on the other hand, only 121,000 and 102,000 votes were cast respectively. You can see these results on the state's website.

Breaking the vote down further it is clear that the city of Seattle voters returned their ballots at a normal rate, while heavily Republican areas of the state did not.  Seattle cast just over 160,000 votes, a voting rate of 42 percent.  This is the almost exactly the same number of votes Seattle cast in the 2010 primary.

In contrast, turnout in Clark County was 31 percent, down 8 percent from 2010.  The turnout in Spokane County was down 4 percent from 2010.  Benton County, down 8 percent.  Franklin County, down 10 percent.  Lewis County, down 8 percent.  And in Yakima County turnout was down 6 percent from 2010.

The math here is pretty simple.  If Republican counties had returned their ballots at 2010 levels, as Seattle did, the results in the Governor’s race, and every statewide partisan race, would’ve looked better for the GOP.

Perception is often reality, but that’s not always the case in politics.  For months a lot of people believed Rob McKenna was comfortably ahead in the Governor’s race.  He wasn’t.  Likewise, Jay Inslee is not ahead now.  The evidence still says this race is a dead heat.

 

 

Chris Vance is a public affairs consultant who lives in Auburn and an adjunct faculty member in the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs. He was chair of the Republican Party in Washington from 2001-06, a King County Council member from 1994-2001, and a state representative from 1991-93. He can be reached at cvapv@comcast.net.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Aug 24, 7:17 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems that turn-out, rather than the shifting moods of independent voters, is the decisive factor in elections. As I recall, the story was the opposite during 2010, when Republicans were much more organized and enthused than Democrats. Perhaps the most relevant question in predicting the November result is the extent to which primary turnout will predict general turnout.

Posted Fri, Aug 24, 7:57 a.m. Inappropriate

"I have learned of private polling done since the primary that shows the race even closer than the last public poll done by SurveyUSA, which showed Inslee with a lead within the poll’s margin."

Did that "private polling" include a push-poll done by Moore Research on behalf of a Republican client to give them talking points about how "Based on all the available evidence this race is dead even?"

The statistics on voter turnout do seem compelling at first glance, but look at it another way and you get a different picture.

King County overall had a voting rate of 38.92% - considerably lower than the 40%+ rate in many rural counties that are typically carried by Republican candidates.

"If Republican counties had returned their ballots at 2010 levels, as Seattle did, the results in the Governor’s race, and every statewide partisan race, would’ve looked better for the GOP."

Yea, sure... and "if" pigs had wings...

Posted Fri, Aug 24, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Republican turnout was down from 2010 but not significantly different than in 2006 and 2008. That suggests that Republicans were especially enthusiastic in 2010 and that 2012 is a more "normal" year.

I suspect that the open seats in the 1st, 6th and 10th will again boost voter turnout on the western side of the state. With no open seats in Eastern Washington, I would expect a slight drop off in interest and turnout.

quiller

Posted Sat, Aug 25, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Quiller:

In the six counties I cited, turnout was much higher in 2008 than in 2012. In 2006 we had a different type of primary. Apples and oranges.

Posted Fri, Aug 24, 6:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Generally I've enjoyed Chris Vance's commentaries since he got out of elective politics and became a commentator...but I think today he's got a little bit of left-over GOP wishful thinking which is coloring his outlook. Fact: Any GOP who wants to win statewide had better come out of King County with 40% or so of the vote. This year, McKenna couldn't even hit 35% in the primary, which I think was worse than either of Rossi's two runs. And does anyone think that he'll do any better in November with President Obama at the top of the ticket, and the hapless small-timer Baumgartner dragging himself to a dismal finish against Sen. Cantwell? It may be close, but the advantage now is clearly with Jay Inslee.

TaylorB1

Posted Sat, Aug 25, 12:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Taylor:

You're right. A Republican needs 40% in King County. That doesn't change the fact that polls say the race is dead even and the primary results were misleading.

Posted Sun, Aug 26, 12:11 a.m. Inappropriate

If McKenna needs 40% in King County then one has to argue that either Inslee is ahead at the moment or that his supporters in King County (not just the State) preferentially saved the cost of a first class stamp - I find the latter explanation hard to believe. If McKenna wants to win he has got to convince a significant number of voters who normally vote for Democrats and will indeed do so in the presidential and senate races, that they should switch parties for him. His principled but politically naive stand on Obamacare makes that quite a hard task and his wonkish advertisements are not helping very much. He still has a chance because Inslee is not a very inspiring candidate but it is a stretch to describe the race as a dead heat.

Posted Sun, Aug 26, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Polling is more accurate than the primary results, and the latest polls show the race too close to call.

Posted Sun, Aug 26, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Chris - You seem to place confidence in the polls only when they tell you what they want. Your concluding statement reads "For months a lot of people believed Rob McKenna was comfortably ahead in the Governor’s race. He wasn’t. Likewise, Jay Inslee is not ahead now." This statement can only be true if you ignore months of polling data that showed McKenna with a significant lead and then polling data over the past 6 months that has cumulatively shown a steady swing to Inslee who now has a small lead. While you can argue that many of polls over the past 6 months were not statistically significant, the overall trend almost certainly is. If you want to argue on the basis of one unpublished poll that the steady drift towards Inslee has given way to a dead heat so be it but there is nothing in the dynamics of the campaigns that could easily explain this. I hope McKenna wins but he is going to have to liven up his campaign for this to happen.

Posted Sat, Aug 25, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

It was a primary with no real doubt about the outcome. I know that neither I nor my wife bothered to vote, but we'll be voting for McKenna in November.

No challenger to Obama, Romney, McKenna or Inslee - I can't imagine a less compelling primary.

The results mean, literally, nothing.

Posted Sun, Aug 26, 10:39 a.m. Inappropriate

David,

I also wrote this: "First, I have learned of private polling done since the primary that shows the race even closer than the last public poll done by SurveyUSA, which showed Inslee with a lead within the poll’s margin. Every poll but one since February has shown this race within the margin of error — statistically tied."

I have a lot of faith in the accuracy of the poll I am referencing, especially because it is consistent with the media polls other than Elway. I think McKenna was ahead until voters realized there was a serious D running for Governor. It has been too close to call since then.

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