Meet the Districts

The shape of city council politics to come is written into our new council districts. Here’s a look at the political personality of each.
The shape of city council politics to come is written into our new council districts. Here’s a look at the political personality of each.

As the results of the last elections are analyzed, some familiar patterns appear. One is the Seattle donut – the city’s outer ring of waterfront neighborhoods vote one way, the interior sections go another. In 2013, the outer ring went for Ed Murray and Richard Conlin, the inland city for Mike McGinn and Kshama Sawant.

It's simplistic, but the donut can reveal a candidate's base and be the difference maker in whether a politician can make inroads on their opponent's turf or maximize the vote on their own ground. Murray, for example, was aided in the mayor's race by splitting off some of McGinn's Capitol Hill constituency, and Sawant received intense support in neighborhoods from Rainier Valley to inner Ballard.

The 2013 election also changed the election map, giving us an emerging picture of the city's new power structure: districts. The voters chose to create seven new districts for city council elections. Dick Morrill, the distinguished retired University of Washington geographer (and sometime Crosscut contributor), drew the new district boundaries, looking less at demographics and more at neighborhood divisions and maintaining approximately equal populations (within one percent). Each has about 80,000 residents.

Crosscut archive image.

The districts will be crucial in reshaping the political landscape in Seattle. They will likely encourage more people to run for office (theoretically, you can run grassroots, doorbell campaigns more easily) and will make council members specifically more accountable to the neighborhoods and district constituencies. You'll have someone to vote out if the potholes on your street aren't fixed.

If the districts are similar in population, they are different in terms of politics and demographics. I asked Seattle political consultant Benjamin Anderstone for his take on the political character of districts 1-7 based on recent voting patterns. Morrill provided key demographic information.

What emerges is a first-cut sense of the character of these newcomers. Some of the stats and patterns are surprising. While they may be equal in population, the districts’ political clout, wealth and race are not. Even politically liberal Seattle reveals some interesting strains of tax-skepticism and caution that could play an interesting role in future city council campaigns.

District Profiles by Benjamin Anderstone, demographic data provided by Richard Morrill.

District 1 (West Seattle, South Park)

Seattle's most suburban district, with relatively conservative election results to match. It was Barack Obama's worst district ("only" 82 percent), and dragged down the Seattle average for same-sex marriage (78 percent were in favor, compared with 82 percent citywide.) 

On municipal races, it competes with District 7, and occasionally District 5, for highest support of Seattle's relatively conservative candidates: Ed Murray got 58 percent, city council candidates Richard Conlin 54 percent and Albert Shen 37 percent. This was Prop. 1’s (public financing's) worst district, with over 60 percent in opposition.

District 1 generally competes with District 2 for being the least supportive of tax advisory measures. This year's advisory vote on pediatric dentistry received only 61 percent in District 1 – its worst result in the city, and far below Seattle’s 69 percent average. The Democrats in West Seattle are hardly conservative, but a good chunk of them will rebel against a tax measure they see as questionable.

Demographic highlights: Second-most families with children (39 percent) after the 2nd District (50 percent), a third singles (35 percent), minority (28 percent), fewest poor (9 percent), second highest median income ($67K).


District 2 (Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, Georgetown)

District 2 is easily Seattle's most demographically distinct neighborhood: It's majority-minority, and has the lowest incomes in the city. Obama had his second-best showing here (89 percent), while same-sex marriage had its worst (69 percent). As with many heavily working-class areas, District 2 skews conservatively on taxes, often being the most supportive of Tim Eyman initiatives.

The district also tends to return 65-75 percent approvals on advisory votes, compared to 75-85 percent in the more doctrinaire progressive districts (3, 4 and 6.) District 2 was the only district not to hit 50 percent turnout this year; only 45 percent of voters returned their ballots.

District 2's vote on municipal races vary on issue. It tends to support the more "progressive" candidates – this was McGinn's best district (55 percent), and city council candidate Kshama Sawant's second-best (56 percent). However, tax issues tend to under-perform here: Public financing barely cracked 50 percent. In 2009, some precincts in District 2 rejected Seattle's plastic bag ban by as much as 90 percent. Some District 2 voters define "progressive" much differently than the voters of Capitol Hill or Fremont.

Demographic highlights: Largest minority population (77 percent), most families with kids (50 percent), fewest singles (31 percent), largest number living in poverty (20 percent), lowest median household income ($47K).


District 3 (Capitol Hill, Central Area, Montlake)

Throughout nearly every race, District 3 is Seattle's most progressive. Obama took 91 percent of the vote here and same-sex marriage came in at 90 percent. District 3 generally returns Seattle's most progressive voter on social, economic, and urban development issues. This is avowed socialist Sawant's home district, and her stronghold; incumbent Conlin managed only 42 percent.

It was easily the best district for the public financing measure, at just under 60 percent, and for progressive incumbent Mike O'Brien, who received 74 percent. Murray made significant inroads to McGinn's progressive base here – possibly based greatly on his credibility on LGBT issues, and popularity in the 43rd District – and managed 49 percent.

It's worth noting that, although progressive on the whole, District 3 is a polarized area. It contains Capitol Hill, but also Madison Park, Seattle's most economically conservative neighborhood, and the city’s only Republican precinct, the gated Broadmoor, where Mitt Romney actually won, and Sawant received only 10 percent.

Demographic Highlights: Second fewest families with children (23 percent), second most singles (48 percent), fewest under 18 (13 percent) second largest number of renters (62 percent), and right at median income ($62K).


District 4 (Wallingford, U-District, Points East, Eastlake)

Left-leaning, but a swing district on municipal issues, District 4 is dominated by the influence of the University of Washington. The U-District forms its urban core, but all of its neighborhoods have a substantial population of UW students and faculty. This makes District 4 Seattle's most educated District. Obama's 87 percent here was only slightly above average, but same-sex marriage held up well (86 percent), and District 4 frequently returns some of the worst results for Tim Eyman measures, and best showings for tax loophole closures.  

Much of District 4 is highly residential – this is Laurelhurst's district, after all – and its municipal returns reflect this. Both Murray (53.0 percent) and Conlin (50.5 percent) won here, and the results for public financing were very close (52 percent). Although progressive on national issues, there is a substantial conservative minority here (especially in areas like Laurelhurst and Windermere), and it's a district relatively unlikely to elect fierce leftists to Council.

Demographic Highlights: Highest percentage with Bachelor’s degree (73 percent), tied for second lowest on under 18, third most renters (54 percent), second highest percentage of poor, second lowest median income ($57K).


District 5 (Lake City, Northgate, Northwest Seattle)

The only district currently lacking representation on City Council, District 5 is anchored by two of North Seattle's remaining working-class neighborhoods, Lake City and Northgate. Outside of these core areas, District 5 ranges from lower middle class to fairly wealthy, especially at the city's northwest corner. Seniors are also a powerful bloc here: At 36 percent, their representation is a few points higher than the rest of the city.

District 5 had a mediocre showing for both Obama (83 percent) and same-sex marriage (77 percent). There are more conservatives, and more conservative Democrats, as you get this far from city center. District 5 also trends conservative on municipal races. Murray received 53 percent, Conlin 52 percent, O'Brien only 64 percent and public financing was defeated by a 55 - 45 percent margin.

Nonetheless, District 5 could make for a very interesting open-seat race. This is an area underserved in city politics, famously frustrated by lack of basic services (like sidewalks), and with significant populations of renters and working people. Frustration abounds; it's yet to see how it will translate politically.

Demographic highlights: Third most families with kids (34 percent), third fewest poor (10 percent), median household income at $63K.


District 6 (Green Lake, Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill)

If District 3 is the archetype of young, hip, urban Seattle, District 6 is its middle-class, crunchy, yoga class-attending counterpart. It's also hardcore liberal: Obama did very well here (88 percent) as did same-sex marriage (87 percent).

On issues where education and income correlate with progressive attitudes, District 6 occasionally returns even more liberal votes than District 3. This was true of Eyman's 2013 "initiative on initiatives," which was obliterated even more strongly in District 6 (18 percent) than any other. District 6 also returned this year's highest vote affirming the estate tax (81 percent). Although District 6 has a lot of fairly well-to-do voters, they do not have a fiscally conservative streak the way voters in Laurelhurst or Madison Park do.

District 6's liberalism extends to municipal races. Sawant won 55 percent, with McGinn not far behind at 53 percent. Public financing did relatively well here (54 percent), and the vote for Sue Peters – the school board candidate who made her opponent's support from charter school advocates a winning issue – was 59 percent, just two points behind District 2's. 

District 6 also consistently returns Seattle's highest turnout rates. In 2013, 58 percent of District 6 residents returned ballots, well above city (52 percent) and county (47 percent) averages. Certainly, there is inter-district variance between the renter-heavy and owner-heavy areas, but it's the difference between, say, Fremont (64 percent Sawant) and Crown Hill (51 percent Sawant). This is the heart of educated, liberal Seattle.

Demographic Highlights: Lowest minority population (19 percent), low under 18 population (15 percent), lowest percentage of poor (7 percent), second highest number of bachelor’s degrees (64 percent), highest median household income ($74K).


District 7 (Magnolia, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Downtown)

Somewhat paradoxically, the district containing downtown is often among Seattle's most conservative. Of course, the vast majority of voters in District 7 live in either Magnolia or Queen Anne, which are full of wealthy residential areas.

However, the Central Business District itself actually has a relatively conservative electorate. District 7 voters supported Obama by below-average margins (83 percent), but this was the only district to give same-sex marriage a higher showing (85 percent). Tax measures are mixed. Measures like the income tax perform poorly, reflecting a wealthier electorate, but populist anti-tax measures (e.g., Tim Eyman's initiatives) tend to have weak showings.

On the municipal level, District 7 has a conservative tint. This was the worst area for McGinn (40 percent), Sawant (43 percent), Mike O'Brien (61 percent), and Sue Peters (49 percent, her only loss.) Public financing's showing (44 percent) was its second-worst. Turnout here may skew off-year elections to the right. In 2013, it was highest in Magnolia's conservative Briarcliff neighborhood (64 percent), and lowest in Belltown (44 percent), where the voters who did vote were substantially older than last year's electorate. District 7 is heavily galvanized between bedroom communities and the urban core. It'll be interesting to see how that tension plays out.

Demographic Highlights: Lowest families with kids (15 percent), highest singles (56 percent), highest renters (63 percent).


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.