Looking at the erosion of Democratic strength in Washington state

Democrats are increasingly concentrated in counties with educated and professional voters.

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Sen. Patty Murray

Democrats are increasingly concentrated in counties with educated and professional voters.

Although the final certified results are not in, we can compare the pattern of votes for Patty Murray vs. George Nethercutt in 2004 (a presidential year) and 2010 vs. Dino Rossi. Overall the Democratic margin fell from 56 to 44 percent in 2004 to 52 to 48 percent in 2010.

The Republican-ward shift was sufficient to move seven counties from D to R. Those counties are: Clallam (from 50 percent Democratic vote to 47 percent), Cowlitz (54 to 47), Mason (53-49), Pierce (54 to 50), Skagit (51 to 49), Skamania (51 to 47), and Wahkiakum (51 to 45).

Other counties with large shifts were: Ferry (41 to 36), Grant (35 to 29), Kittitas (41 to 35), Pend Oreille (44 to 38), Stevens (38 to 33), Walla Walla (44 to 39), Yakima (43 to 37).

Only San Juan increased its very high Democratic share (64 to 65), while Island (51), Jefferson (63) and King (65) remained the same.

What this tells us is that the continuing defection of the traditional working class Democrat continues in such counties as in Cowlitz, Mason, Pierce, and Clallam.  Another lesson is the likely shift or “sitting it out” of Hispanic voters, as in Grant and Yakima counties.  Thus Democratic strength is more and more associated with educated and professional voters in King, Snohomish, Jefferson, Thurston, Whatcom and San Juan — and in areas with Democratic retirees such as Clallam.

This realignment is pretty amazing and is not good news for the Democrats, particularly as the party does little to address the root causes and consequences of economic and social restructuring. 

Nationally, there was also a substantial middle class suburban and small city shift to the right, related to both job declines and housing collapse. While not obvious in the Senate race, it was probably quite influential in some House and Legislative races.  Alert readers will probably find some other insights from these numbers, such as a possible revival of “family values” voting.  


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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.