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There are two problems with this analysis. The first is that there are car-dependent portions of Seattle — especially West Seattle and North Seattle — where Proposition 1 did just fine. In my car-dependent, north Seattle home ‘hood, Hawthorne Hills, the measure received 70% of the vote, even though U.S. Census reports indicate that car ownership is nearly universal here. Plenty of car users voted for Prop. 1. It just appears that, outside of Seattle, they were in the clear minority.
The second problem with the “unwilling suburbanites” angle: The suburbs have voted for transit before. In 2008, a Sound Transit proposition was overwhelmingly approved by voters across King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. In the parts of King County where it was on the ballot, the Sound Transit measure decisively outpaced this year’s. That included resounding wins in some suburban communities.
Take a look at this table, showing the relative performance of 2008’s Sound Transit measure versus this year’s Metro Transit proposition.
The figures are staggering. Losses were modest in Seattle, with support for the 2008 vote at 70% and support for the 2014 vote at 67%. On the other hand, the “yes” support in Auburn dropped by more than half, from 47% in 2008 to a paltry 23% this year.
In most of King County, it’s obvious that Prop. 1 lost a huge chunk of voters that were supportive of Sound Transit in 2008.
These were different measures, of course, but that’s very much the point. There was something in this year’s proposal — whether it be car tabs, the focus on bus transit or Metro Transit itself — that alienated suburban voters. The result was a marked decline of support that cannot simply be attributed to anti-transit sentiments. We’ve seen turnarounds on transit issues before — Sound Transit’s 2008 success followed a 2007 loss — but never before have attitudes between so polarized between the city and suburbs.
That leaves transit advocates with a dilemma: Do they hone their message for the broader region, or narrow their focus to supportive Seattle? That question is likely to weigh heavily on the debate around “Plan C” — and could send transit advocates even further into the alphabetic reaches.
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