On a cold evening in late October 2012, voters across Seattle hopped into their late-model Toyota Camrys and set out on a mission.
From Westwood Village to Northgate, they parked at their coffee shops of choice, grabbed their mail-in ballots from the backseat and strode purposefully past two new condo developments and a pet salon. They entered the café to the sounds of Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” ordered their non-fat hazelnut latte, opened their ballots and voted for every progressive measure possible.
President Obama’s re-election — check
Same-sex marriage — approved
Legal pot — on every street corner, if possible!
And, of course, a “yes” vote for every progressive tax and public levy.
Tucking their finished ballots into their signature envelopes, Seattle’s electorate sipped their lattes and stared thoughtfully out the window. What a wonderful day to be truly progressive, they thought. Maybe I should buy a fixed-gear bicycle.
This is the stereotypical view of Seattle’s median voter. According to the conventional wisdom, Seattle’s electorate is full of fiery, uncompromising progressives. They elect socialist councilmembers, gay mayors, and fully endorse the Wars on Christmas, cars and brown bags, both tangible and verbal. Seattle isn’t merely liberal, says this conventional wisdom, it is lock-step liberalism at its most homogenous.
There’s a small problem with this argument: it’s not really true. In reality, Seattle is a city marked by fierce internal divisions — on social policy, taxation, local issues, and just about everything. Certainly, Seattle is a staunchly Democratic city with a heavy liberal tilt. However, outside of a few neighborhoods, different conceptualizations of “liberalism” flourish. The liberalism of Fremont is not like the liberalism of the Rainier Valley is not like the liberalism of Laurelhurst.
For this analysis, I analyzed precinct results for every Seattle election since November 2008. I limited my analysis to races that demonstrated division along ideological or geographic lines. In total, 47 ballot items made the cut. Each of these ballot items was sorted into four categories – partisan issues (Democrat vs. Republican), social issues, fiscal/tax issues, and local candidate races.
Results were tabulated for each of Seattle’s 951 voting precincts.Each precinct was assigned a score in all four categories. A score of 100 indicates that the precinct has the strongest progressive voting history in Seattle, while a score of 0 indicates the most conservative record.
The results were stark: although some precincts appeared near the top of all four lists, others had drastically varying positions. Some of Seattle’s bluest neighborhoods have remarkable conservative streaks on taxation, cultural issues, or municipal politics. With these results, I’ve mapped the real extents, and limits, of “Seattle liberalism.”
Seattle is a very Democratic city: for every Mitt Romney voter, there were 6 Barack Obama voters. Still, Romney actually won one precinct — Broadmoor in Madison Park, where he received 56 percent to Obama’s 43 percent. Elsewhere, Republicans, especially further down the ticket, have historically been competitive. Windermere, Laurelhurst, Madison Park, and the Magnolia Bluffs are all dotted with fairweather GOP precincts with substantial conservative minorities. A total of 49 precincts in these areas scored under 50 on the 100-point scale of Democratic partisanship. That’s not many, but it’s enough to make Republicans a significant minority in Seattle’s electorate.
Generally, Seattle’s most Republican-friendly precincts are affluent and located near water view areas. They are rife with “Sam Reed Democrats”: voters who would be hard-pressed to find a Republican Presidential candidate they support, but who are willing to vote for Republicans for technocratic positions. Many of these Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Reed and Rob McKenna in 2008 and Dan Satterberg in 2007, with some supporting competitive Republicans like Kim Wyman and Dino Rossi.
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