Washington state: color me purple

There are a lot of swing districts, part red and part blue, and even in strongly Republican or Democratic regions there are pockets of dissent.
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Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Barack Obama at KeyArena, along with Mayor Greg Nickels. (Hal O'Brien, Wikimedia Commons)

There are a lot of swing districts, part red and part blue, and even in strongly Republican or Democratic regions there are pockets of dissent.

I'ꀙve written a fair amount on the validity of Red versus Blue Washington, and on 'ꀜmodernist'ꀝ versus a 'ꀜtraditionalist'ꀝ Washington. But to be honest, there is a sizeable 'ꀜpurple'ꀝ Washington, revealing areas which, on partisan offices, sometimes vote Democratic, sometimes Republican. Using the 2008 election results, obviously considered favorable to the Democrats, we can identify sizeable areas of voters who are not always loyal to one party.

I looked at the state according to five categories. First are areas that voted for John McCain, gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, and Attorney General Rob McKenna (all Republicans) — adding up to 25 percent of the state's population. Next are areas voting for Obama but also Rossi and McKenna, amounting to 17 percent of our population. Third are areas that voted Democratic for president and for governor, but Republican for attorney general (36 percent of the population). Fourth is the pure-Democratic swath (22 percent). Last is the tiny outlier tract (McNeil Island) that voted for Gov. Gregoire but also McCain and McKenna.

While 58 percent of the population lives in areas carried by both Obama and Gregoire, compared to 42 percent in areas carried by Rossi and McKenna, over half the population, 53 percent, lives in areas where allegiance was split. Indeed, a big chunk of the population, 36 percent, lives in regions carried by Obama for president but also by McKenna for attorney general. Only 47 percent of the areas — 25 percent for Republicans and 22 percent for Democrats — seemed reliably safe for one party or the other. Obviously the more balanced areas, housing over half the electorate, hold promise to both parties to win with highly appealing candidates.

The state map, not surprisingly, looks great for Republicans. This is especially true in eastern Washington and its western annex, Lewis County, but of course much of this territory is sparsely populated. There are some Democratic islands across the state: native American Indian reservations (Colville, Yakama), Pullman'ꀓWSU, much of the inner city of Spokane, those few 'ꀜenvironmental'ꀝ tracts. Outside the Seattle-metropolitan core, Democrat-leaning areas include Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Vancouver, and Olympia. Even in western Washington, at least half the territory was all Republican or two-out-of-three Republican, including much of southwestern Washington, western Kitsap County, exurban Whatcom and Skagit, the majority of Snohomish County, and much of rural eastern King County.

In central Puget Sound, the pattern is a familiar one. The all-D areas are confined to the city of Seattle and less affluent suburbs immediately north or south; Vashon and Bainbridge; the cities of Tacoma and Olympia and inner Everett; Port Townsend; and part of southern Whidbey Island. The 'ꀜgreen'ꀝ areas voted for Obama and Gregoire but also for McKenna. These would be the larger part of the 36 percent that leans but it is not really safely Democratic, and is basically inner suburban King and Snohomish, suburban Olympia, the Bremerton core, and some American Indian reservations.

Even in the really inner metropolitan core, some areas are solidly Republican, including western Kitsap, exurban and rural Pierce, about half of rural southeastern King County, and similarly situated exurban tracts in Snohomish County. Two-out-of-three Republican areas occupy much of rural Snohomish and King, the intermediate belt of Kitsap, and even east suburban Pierce. The latter is especially significant, as historically Pierce County was a blue-collar Democratic heartland, now being eaten away by the traditionalist message. In the inner Seattle core, only the super-affluent Point cities (Medina, Hunt's Point) and Woodway voted for even two out of three Republican.

Nutshell message: There remain a lot of battleground areas. Candidates and issues matter.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Dick Morrill

Dick Morrill is emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert in urban demography.