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Neighborhoods: Uncovering Seattle’s hidden conservatives and true-blue liberals

There is surprising dissent in our famously progressive city, as an in-depth analysis of Seattle’s political geography recently showed. My data for that story (and the corresponding maps) were based on voting precincts, small sub-units maintained for electioneering purposes. Of course, most people think of their city’s geography in terms of another unit — the neighborhood.

So, I broke all 951 Seattle precincts into 93 neighborhoods using the City Clerk’s Atlas, public maps and a little horse sense. Results for 47 significant ballot items since 2008 — partisan votes (favoring Democrats), social issues (such as same-sex marriage and aid in dying), tax measures and local races — were combined to create an overall index of liberalism. Each of our neighborhoods was scored on an index running from 0 (most conservative) to 100 (most liberal). 

These results indicate Seattle has some truly devoted quarters of consistent progressivism, a few enclaves with surprisingly conservative tendencies and a lot of eclectic and quirky political communities in between.

Here’s a countdown of Seattle’s top 5 most liberal and conservative ‘hoods, followed by the most average of all neighborhoods. They are followed by the full ranking of all 92 neighborhoods.

Most Liberal

5. Wallingford

Gas Works Park in Wallingford. Wildcat Dunny / Flickr 

Known principally as the U-District and Fremont’s sleepier, family-friendly cousin, Wallingford is no slouch when it comes to progressivism. The neighborhood’s social liberalism probably comes as no surprise. This is, after all, the epicenter of sort of voters often stereotyped as “latte liberals.” What’s more impressive is Wallingford’s commitment to progressive ideals that many assume might make the Whole Foods crowd balk. Despite its relative wealth, the neighborhood routinely supports progressive taxation measures, like the ill-fated 2010 high-earners income tax, and it’s harder to find an area more allergic to Tim Eyman proposals.

Overall score: 82 (5th most liberal of 93)

Partisanship: 82 (10th of 93)
Social issues: 82 (4th)
Tax issues: 79 (2nd)
Local races: 66 (12th)

4. Central District

Catfish Corner at Cherry and MLK Way in the Central District. Rob Ketcherside / Flickr

Gentrification is a complicated political issue, morally and politically. The exodus of African-Americans from the Central District may have been a socio-cultural sea change, but it has hardly made a blip in partisan politics. The Central District is Seattle’s most partisan neighborhood, delivering Mitt Romney a crushing 21-to-1 defeat. On local candidate races, the CD tends to lean even further to the left than Capitol Hill. Socialist Alternative city council candidate Kshama Sawant, for instance, had her best showing here, netting 71% compared to her 69% on Cap Hill. The CD’s new residents have also made it among the city’s more socially progressive neighborhoods, delivering a resounding 86% for same-sex marriage.

Overall score: 84 (4th most liberal of 93)

Partisanship: 93 (1st)
Social issues: 75 (19th)
Tax issues: 78 (6th of 93)
Local races: 84 (2nd of 93)

3. Fremont

Bikers take part in Fremont's annual Solstice Parade. Dave Lichterman / Flickr.

The “Center of the Universe” has a kooky, crunchy reputation that doesn’t quite match its demographics. Today’s Fremont is more white-collar than hemp t-shirt. Still, the neighborhood — from its professional home owners to young apartment-dwellers — boasts a fiercely progressive ideology. In fact, in 2012, Fremont threatened to out-vote Capitol Hill on both same-sex marriage and pot legalization.  It would be absurd to suggest the neighborhood’s Lenin statue is any sort of political endorsement, but it does show a neighborhood that isn’t shy about making its open-mindedness evident.

Overall score: 85 (3rd of 93)

Partisanship: 84 (8th of 93)
Social issues: 88 (2nd)
Tax issues: 82 (3rd)
Local races: 78 (6th)

2. Madison Valley

A snowy Madison Valley. Brendan Leber / Flickr

Madison Valley is a small enclave, packed between Capitol Hill and the Central District, just south of the Washington Park Arboretum. The neighborhood’s single-family homes and apartments used to be home to a significant number of working-class and black voters. Gentrification since the 1970’s has brought many downtown workers and young professionals seeking a quieter alternative to the bustle of Broadway. They’ve brought their politics, too: Madison Valley ranked in the top six on all four measures of progressive politics.

Overall score: 86 (2nd most liberal of 93)

Partisanship: 91 (3rd of 93)
Social issues: 83 (6th)
Tax issues: 81 (4th)
Local races: 78 (5th)

1. Capitol Hill

A panoramic view of Capitol Hill celebrations of Obama's 2008 victory. Michael Holden / Flickr.

Note: This analysis counts North Capitol Hill as a separate neighborhood, ranking #28. Even counting the two together, Capitol Hill would rank first on this survey, scoring 88 points.

Capitol Hill’s reputation as a bastion of uncompromising progressive politics is well-earned. The neighborhood, which boasts a high population of young and LGBT voters, regularly delivers lopsided margins for lefty causes, ranking first for progressive social policies and taxation. Capitol Hill voted for same-sex marriage at a clip of 15-to-1, and approved marijuana legalization by over 6-to-1. It’s also intensely Democratic; Mitt Romney barely edged out third-party candidates in 2012.

Overall score: 92 (1st of 93)

Partisanship: 91 (2nd of 93)
Social issues: 92 (1st)
Tax issues: 88 (1st)
Local races: 83 (3rd)

Most Conservative

5. Arbor Heights

Located at Seattle’s southwest corner, Arbor Heights is a stumble away from being part of Burien. With Downtown a 20-minute drive away, you can’t get much more remote in city limits, and Arbor Heights’ relatively tepid progressivism reflects that separation. The neighborhood ranks in the bottom fifth of every metric we measured. Taxes are an especially tough sell in Arbor Heights. No other Seattle neighborhood has a larger base of voters solidly opposed to voting for any tax measure.

Photo at right: A snowy view of Arbor Heights. C.E. Kent / Flickr

Overall score: 41 (89th most liberal of 93)

Partisanship: 55 (86th)
Social issues: 50 (78th)
Tax issues: 29 (91st)
Local issues: 44 (77th)

4. South Beacon Hill

South Beacon Hill. Joel Colvos / Flickr. 

South Beacon Hill makes for a surprising entry on this list. At 14% White, it is Seattle’s most majority-minority neighborhood. That makes it hostile territory for Republicans: Mitt Romney managed only 12% here in 2012. By every other measure, though, South Beacon Hill has some very conservative tendencies. South Beacon Hill is often hostile toward tax measures and levies, nearly failing several popular school bonds. It’s also consistently tough for progressive social issues, delivering narrow returns for same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization, and assisted suicide.

Overall score: 40 (90th of 93)

Partisanship: 76 (30th)
Social issues: 22 (92nd)
Tax issues: 28 (92nd)
Local issues: 50 (61st)

3. Rainier View

A distant view of downtown, as seen from Rainier View. Matthew Rutledge / Flickr.

Many Seattleites have never heard of, let alone been to, Rainier View. Tucked in between Rainier Beach and Renton, the neighborhood is most recognizable for Kubota Gardens. Like South Beacon Hill, Rainier View’s is very diverse (35% Asian, 28% black, 26% white) and very Democratic (Romney received 12%). Another similarity is found in the neighborhood’s conservative streak on social and fiscal issues. Rainier View ranks dead last in support for tax measures.

Overall score: 40 (91st of 93)

Partisanship: 76 (29th)
Social issues: 24 (91st)
Tax issues: 25 (93rd)
Local races: 50 (58th)

2. Madison Park

A bird's-eye view of Madison Park. Maurice King / Flickr.

A mere five-minute drive from No. 1 most-liberal Capitol Hill (and directly adjacent to No. 2 Madison Valley), Madison Park is right in the heart of Seattle. Its politics aren't, though. The reason? There's serious money in Madison Park. The average single-family home here goes for over $1 million, and six-digit incomes are merely average. That gives the neighborhood a deep history of fiscal conservatism, enough to hold Obama to his lowest showing in Seattle, a mere 65%. Madison Park’s exclusive Broadmoor is Seattle’s only remaining Republican precinct. The only thing keeping Madison Park from a last-place showing in our index of progressivism: cultural issues like same-sex marriage, which do reasonably well in this highly educated neighborhood. 

Overall score: 33 (92nd of 93)

Partisanship: 37 (93rd)
Social issues: 58 (69th)
Tax issues: 33 (89th)
Local races: 19 (93rd)

1. Briarcliff

The view from Magnolia Blvd. in Briarcliff. cleverdame107 / Flickr. 

Perched on Magnolia Bluff, Briarcliff boasts some of Seattle’s most impressive views of Downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine an area more removed from the City’s urban politics, though. The neighborhood is chock full of upscale professionals and wealthy retirees.  Just a third of Briarcliff voters supported 2010’s high-earners income tax. Briarcliff may trend upscale, but the neighborhood scored in the bottom fifth on social liberalism, too. That makes it Seattle’s least liberal neighborhood.

Briarcliff may be minutes from Downtown Seattle, but its politics are much closer to Mercer Island or Redmond: a historically Republican area where voters, even many Democrats, retain moderate-to-conservative views.

Overall score: 32 (93rd of 93)

Partisanship: 41 (92nd)
Social issues: 52 (77th)
Tax issues: 30 (90th)
Local races: 21 (92nd)

Most Average

Victory Heights

A street in the Victory Heights neighborhood. Chas Redmond / Flickr.

What neighborhood represents the political spirit of Seattle better than any other? It’s not latte-soaked Capitol Hill, Lenin-boasting Fremont or any Seattle neighborhood that would find itself on a postcard. Instead, it’s a quiet, leafy suburb west of Lake City.

Victory Heights ranks close to Seattle’s average demographics on race, income, education, and other political predictors. The neighborhood also has a mix of single-family homes, young renters, and senior living facilities. It’s heavily Democratic, culturally liberal, left-leaning on taxes, and a fierce battleground in most competitive local races. If you could bottle Seattle politics, it would taste a lot like Victory Heights.

Victory Heights scores a 70 in partisanship (Seattle average: 71); 61 on social issues (average: 63); 55 on taxes (average: 54); and 54 on local issues (average: also 54). That’s enough for an overall score of 59, just a tick below the Seattle average of 60. As goes Victory Heights, so goes the Emerald City.

Overall score: 59 (48th of 93)

Partisanship: 70 (53rd)
Social issues: 61 (55th)
Tax issues: 55 (44th)
Local issues: 54 (48th).


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