Written by Dick Morrill with assistance from Benjamin Anderstone
Although they’re normally a sedate affair, off-year elections occasionally prove noteworthy on substance. The 2013 election was such a year: for what it was lacking in turnout, it made up in electoral significance that will help shape the city's politics for years to come.
To recall: Seattle voters introduced districted City Council elections, ejected an incumbent mayor and elected a self-avowed socialist to the Council over a long-term incumbent. These results were seen — accurately — as a small revolt against “business as usual.” But what does this really mean?
We examined the geographical pattern of votes in 2013, to uncover how different areas of Seattle, and different groups of its citizens, voted. To accomplish this, we examined election results at two different levels — precincts (see this previous article), and – here – districts.
How did Seattle vote? A look by districts
We begin with a table profiling the districts by demographic characteristics and their voting in the 2013 election (Table 1). District 1 includes West Seattle and South Park; District 2, Southeast Seattle; District 3, Capitol Hill-Montlake-Central Area; District 4 University District-Wallingford; District 5 Northgate-Broadview-Haller Lake-Lake City; District 6 Ballard-Fremont-Green Lake; District 7 Queen Anne-Magnolia-Downtown. (For a map of the districts, click here.)
The strongest support for district elections of council members was not from areas farthest from Downtown, which are often pitched as marginalized in City politics, but rather from two highly urban districts, the 3rd (Capitol Hill-South Lake Union) and 6 (Ballard-Greenlake). These districts were the best results for Kshama Sawant, same-sex marriage, and other progressive issues. The smallest victory for districted elections (still a healthy 62.5%) was in the 7th covering Queen Anne and Magnolia. The 7th also gave Ed Murray and Richard Conlin their best showings. There isn’t a clear demographic reason for this showing; it may relate to the 7th's greater share of affluent professionals filling those downtown offices and banks. At least in the case of districted elections, though, these distinctions are marginal: Districting was very popular throughout the City.
There were some surprises in Mayor-elect Ed Murray’s win. The strongest support for Murray was not from the 3rd or 4th (University District-Wallingford), the districts containing much of the 43rd Legislative District, which Murray long represented in the Legislature. Rather, they were from the Magnolia-Queen Anne’s 7 and the 1st, which covers West Seattle. Murray struggled most in the 2nd (Southeast Seattle), which is Seattle’s only majority-minority district, and its least affluent, as well as the 6th, McGinn’s home turf and home to North Seattle’s most progressive neighborhoods.
The vote for Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant is fascinating, as well. The 7th is again the establishment outlier with strong support for incumbent Conlin, along with the West Seattle-based 1st; in north Seattle, 4th and 5th split. The 3rd, home for both Conlin (of Madrona) and Sawant (of Capitol Hill), had the strongest showing for Sawant, again followed by the progressive 6th, despite the district’s affluence and high education. By contrast, the fairly modest vote for Sawant in the 4th, home of UW, is a little surprising.
The vote for Mike O’Brien looks remarkably like a standard liberal/conservative race in Seattle, with strong support from the “leftish” 3 and 6, and lowest support from the 1st and 7th. The fact that O’Brien is from the 6th may help explain why he did better to the north than in the traditionally Democratic 2nd. Alternatively, this may suggest that O’Brien did best with high-income, high-education progressives – perhaps a great example of his own politics and demographics?
Support for Proposition 1 (public campaign finance) had the same relative pattern as support for districts, but at a lower level. Only four districts showed Prop. 1 majority support — 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th. The measure was unable to gain a majority elsewhere, consistently underperforming districted elections, Mike O’Brien, and other progressive-correlated causes. Prop. 1's failure may be an indicator that eternally cautious Seattleites want reform, but want confidence in the process.
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