Seattle’s new political glossary

Lots of MADREPS in Seattle's Broadmoor enclave Credit: Credit: redfin.com

The outcome of the 2013 elections suggests that viewing Seattle as one, blue, lefty blob — politically speaking, of course — isn't very useful as a political model of the city. Sure, we're pretty progressive here, but that doesn't mean we don't have our differences, despite what FOX's Bill O'Reilly might think.

With the seven new city council districts, those differences may prove more important when it comes to electing our representatives. So, Crosscut has been poking into the details, examining what last fall's election results meant, and discerning what the city's actual demographics and voting patterns might bode.

For example, there are Democratic precincts that voted for a Socialist (Kshama Sawant), and those that voted against. There are liberals who voted for change in the form of City Council districts and public financing, and those that supported the status quo. There are parts of town where otherwise progressive voters are skeptical about legalized pot, gay marriage or grocery bag fees.

In trying to sort through and name these newfound differences, it's evident that we have a vocabulary problem. For example, we have voters who may be risk-averse or hold cautious positions on taxation, social issues and local government, but who are not necessarily conservatives in any conventional sense. Seattleites are more complex than that. We're liberal, but what kind of liberals are we? How do we characterize or categorize thinking and voting patterns that don't fall easily left or right, Red or Blue, liberal or conservative? How do we describe the Fifty Shades of Blue (and a few Pink precincts) that color our city?

People have tried coining expressions to capture these strange leanings before. "Dinocrats" was the term for Democratic voters who crossed the aisle for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi or later Rob McKenna. "Scoop Jackson Democrats" once described liberals who were hardliners on foreign policy, after the Washington state Senator who became a neo-con favorite. "Dan Evans Republican" once labeled the pro-conservation, moderate wing of the state Republican party, an homage to the former governor who exemplified that species, a critter now as old and rare as a Lake Union woolly mammoth.

Those bygone labels were useful in capturing nuance or creating voter messaging. In that spirit, and after studying the latest voting patterns, we're putting forth a new political bestiary. Think of it as a field guide to Seattle politics that's more useful than the broad labels of the past.

Herewith, some nominees:

CHARFORMs, Change Resisters for Murray
Not fans of the BIG change supported by CHAFURS, this subset of liberals voted for longtime city council member Richard Conlin over newcomer Sawant; were skeptical of district elections (many preferred the old at-large system); and supported Ed Murray for mayor over Mike McGinn, a change vote that could also be seen as a vote against a change-agent — or one in favor of a less combative personality. CHARFORMS tend to live in bedroom communities such as Laurelhurst, Magnolia and Fauntleroy.

CHAFURs, Change Friendly Urban Renters
Pronounced like "chafe," as in people who chafe at the status quo, these voters live in places such as Capitol Hill and Fremont. They said yes to district elections, Kshama Sawant, and public financing of council elections, and generally have yet to meet a tax they didn't like. Basically, they're progressives who want to shake things up. The blue areas in this map are voting precincts that boast unusually high populations of CHAFURS type voters.


Credit: Benjamin Anderstone

SAMDEMs, Sam Reed Democrats
These are Democrats who show a willingness to vote Republican from time to time. Progressives who will choose R's tend to pick ones that are non-partisan in their approach. Former Secretary of State Sam Reed, for example. Other GOPers who have gotten SAMDEM votes include King County prosecutors: the late Norm Maleng and incumbent Dan Satterfield.

SOFTROTS, Sawant Democrats
Democrats in Seattle have often been vocal about local politicians who stray. Former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, for example, was criticized for flirting with the Green Party and Ralph Nader. Some questionsed his Democratic loyalty, an important factor in a city where most council candidates vie for endorsements from the local Democratic legislative districts. But there are a significant number of voters in Seattle who are more lefty than the party mainstream, especially on single-payer healthcare and other issues. Think of them as being in the small "s" socialist camp. In 2013, many of these "Democrats" voted for Sawant, not because they believe in global socialist revolution or are card-carrying Trotskyites, but because, party affilication aside, Sawant reflects many of their values.

INPROGS, Income Inequality Progressives
Not all of Seattle is in love with all taxes. In fact, some precincts that vote heavily liberal are much more skeptical when it comes to tax increases. Certain recincts in South Seattle, for example, voted around 9-to-1 against the grocery bag fee. Often, these are poorer communities that are on the wrong end of Washington state's regressive tax system. They support taxes, such as a progressive income tax on the rich, but not ones that make life more expensive for ordinary folks.

MADREPS, Affluent Water View Republicans
Seattle has often been described as a bagel or donut, politically speaking. One kind of voter lives in the water view neighborhoods along the city's edge, another kind occupies the center. And there is truth in this. Seattle's most conservative perimeter neighborhoods — Madison Park, Magnolia's Briarcliff and Broadmoor, for example — tend to vote in higher percentages for Republicans. Broadmoor was the only precinct in the city to go for Mitt Romney. Look for a true Republican in Seattle, and he or she is likely to be living on the donut rim with a dock or a deck — or, in Broadmoor, a golf club.

CVALS, Conservative Values Liberals
This group clusters in low-income neighborhoods, especially those with a high number of immigrant groups. CVALS tend to be progressive voters, but they get more conservative when major values issues show up on the ballots. That may be because of the high numbers of groups with strong religious values. These voters tend to live in some of the most ethnically diverse areas: Brighton, Yesler Terrace and South Beacon Hill. They are not fans of legalized marijuana, gay marriage or assisted suicide.

This new glossary of Seattle's political subsets is based on recent voting trends. Of course, things are always shifting. New voter groups are sure to emerge in the future, and newly relevant attitudes will form as we face new decisions on Metro funding, a Metropolitan Park District and possibly a $15-per-hour minimum wage initiative. This is our first cut at trying to characterize some of the key groups in the city which have emerged in recent years, groups that could play keys roles in upcoming elections.

But we'd love your help in expanding and refining our glossary. What political animals have you seen prowling around out there?

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