Election 2014: Ready for what comes next?

A large chunk of state voters tend to see possible solutions in the middle. Will politicians pay attention?
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Exercising the franchise in Magnuson Park.

A large chunk of state voters tend to see possible solutions in the middle. Will politicians pay attention?

OK, the 2014 election is at hand, time to skip ahead to 2016.

Too soon, you say? Yes, it's premature-eleculation, I suppose.

But we have some new data that will help us analyze the results of 2014. They'll also suggest opportunities in the next statewide election two years hence, as well as where support might be for the legislative agenda. Plus, they give us some sense of how Washington voters see themselves. One interesting thing that emerges is that state voters are somewhat supportive of tax increases, open to an income tax on the rich and immigrant-friendly, at least in theory. Those issues frequently run into tangles at the polls or in the halls of Olympia, but voter attitudes suggest a willingness to embrace policies that could break political gridlock.

The poll I'm talking about was conducted in mid-October by the University of Washington's Matt Barreto and Christopher Parker for KCTS 9. You can see the full results here.

The pollsters start by testing the mood of the electorate. A significant plurality of voters, 48 percent, think the state is on the right track, 36 percent say we're on the seriously wrong track. The Puget Sound region is more upbeat than Eastern Washington, and people who live in neither place are even more positive: 54 percent saying we're going in the right direction.

The poll finds that education is the top issue on people's minds, followed by guns and the economy. It's not surprising these are top of mind given that education and guns are both on the current ballot via statewide initiatives on gun background checks (for, I-594; against, I-591) and K-12 class sizes (I-1351). The poll shows support for I-594 with some 64 percent of voters planning to vote or leaning "yes,"  and voters and leaners split on I-591 (45 to 44 percent). I-1351 is showing over 60 percent support.

How would voters like to address the state's problems? When asked how they would like to see Washington's budget deficits reduced, 23 percent say with budget cuts only, the stalwart Republican position in Olympia. Only 15 percent of voters in Puget Sound say take that approach, while more than double that number in Eastern Washington say like it (33 percent). The most popular position, 30 percent statewide, is to use a mix of cuts and tax increases to solve our fiscal problems. Those who want tax increases only amount to a mere 12 percent statewide. My thought goes back to the issues related to funding education and getting a state transportation plan out of Olympia. The recent Republican controlled Majority Coalition caucus took a strong no-taxes stand, but the poll suggests the middle wants a balanced solution. A GOP-controlled Senate might want to take heed.

Statewide, the Legislature's "very favorable" number is 6 percent, and even worse, less than 1 percent, in Eastern Washington. Locusts or apple maggots are probably more popular. If you add in "somewhat" favorables, the favorable and unfavorable numbers are about the same statewide, in the mid-30s. The overall impression of Olympia: belch.

When asked whether or not the Legislature should provide more funding for education, nearly 60 percent of voters statewide strong agree that the lawmakers should — over 60 percent in Puget Sound and 47 percent in Eastern Washington. If you add the people who somewhat agree, support is over 70 percent. This should provide a path for legislative progress on McCleary and fully funding basic education. There is virtual consensus on spending more.

Also interesting is the state of the third rail of state politics, the income tax, which has been soundly beaten at the polls and is a talking point to be avoided by politicians on the stump outside Seattle. Yet in this poll, when asked if they "agree or disagree with creating an income tax on wealthy households," there is surprising support. Those who strongly or somewhat support the idea form a majority on Puget Sound (53 percent), and minorities in Eastern Washington (36 percent) and the rest of the state (47 percent). Still the statewide average hovers at 48 percent, which suggests that conversation about an income tax is at least possible. I'm sure the wording here helped — it's easier to imagine a rich "household" paying taxes than individuals. Still, the third rail might be losing a bit of its charge. We've certainly seen evolution on other issues, like same-sex marriage.

Statewide, people have somewhat more trust in Democrats (41 percent) than Republicans (35 percent) to "make the right decisions and improve economic conditions in Washington state." A large percentage (over 70) wants to see a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (support is even greater in Republican Eastern Washington than in the Puget Sound area). Voters are divided down the middle on a state $15 minimum wage (49 percent for vs. 48 against).

Looking ahead, the poll takes a look at the possible 2016 campaign players. Gov. Jay Inslee has a positive favorable above 50 percent — though 6 percent of those polled have never heard of him! U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, running for a fifth term in 2016, is at 54 percent. Hillary Clinton is known by virtually everyone and has a 55 percent favorable image. Joe Biden is also well known, but comes in at 43 percent favorable. Potential GOP challenges are much less known and their favorable ratings are much lower: Chris Christie (34 percent), Paul Ryan (29), Marco Rubio (27), Ted Cruz (25). The Tea Party's unfavorables are at 47 percent.

There is much more in the poll about voter attitudes and habits. One interesting bit: For a state that is the home of Microsoft and Amazon, the voters are not as tech-savvy or social media-friendly as you might think. Nearly 18 percent have never sent an email, 50 percent have never posted a comment on Facebook, 27 percent have never sent or received a text message, and 72 percent say they have never posted a comment on a blog or website. Or maybe they just won't admit to being trolls. If these number are true, it goes to show why even in this day and age, landlines, shoe leather, TV, yard signs and mailers still matter in politics.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

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