The year was 2004. The nation was flooding theaters to see The Notebook. An obscure web site called TheFacebook.com was launching from a Massachusetts dorm room. And, of course, the nation was agog about soccer moms.
Remember “soccer moms,” that crucial demographic of married women between 25 and 50? The voters who, harried by their demanding schedule and ostensibly ceaseless fears of terrorism and economic insecurity, were expected to trudge to the polls and cast decisive votes?
It probably won’t surprise many of you to learn that political scientists consider the whole soccer mom thing a silly construction of the press. Yes, women between 25 and 45 vote. Yes, a decent number of them are swing voters. But their turnout levels weren’t unusual in 2004, nor were they remarkably likely to be undecided. We technically don’t know how soccer moms voted – alas, the exit polls don’t ask about minivan ownership or willingness to tolerate tweens – but the broader 25-to-50 female demographic ended up voting for John Kerry. Obviously, that hardly proved decisive. In most elections, no demographic is a silver bullet.
Seattle’s 2015 city council elections may be different. With the adoption of the hybrid district/at large system in 2013, seven of nine council seats will be decided by only one-seventh of the city’s population. Furthermore, with as many as nine candidates running in some districts, the votes are heavily divided. Suddenly, a few thousand votes and 20 percent of the electorate could feasibly get a candidate to the General Election in the fall. Forget soccer moms; suddenly groups under 10 percent of the population could be pivotal. Even Republicans (!).
I decided to dust off the data from my previous Crosscut article with Knute Berger, “Meet the Districts,” and take a look at which voter blocs could matter in each of five competitive district races. The data show they may be the cohorts that shape our next City Council.
District 1: Establishment voters
I wrote in “Meet the Districts” that District 1, which includes West Seattle and South Park, has a bit of a pro-establishment lean. That’s no surprise. This is a largely middle-class district with many families, and the most moderate electorate in the city. This is an area where candidates endorsed by the Seattle Times and business orgs tend to do well. The voters wouldn’t self-identify as establishment (who would?), but in the end, many tend to look for moderates with strong credentials and institutional support.
With nine candidates, though, the “establishment” mantle is up for grabs. Lisa Herbold and Brianna Thomas have done a lot to consolidate the traditionally lefty profile. For once, though, the moderate bloc is more divided. Shannon Braddock, who has also received support from liberal orgs, is endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce's PAC. The Seattle Times’ dark-horse endorsement of attorney Phillip Tavel further divides the electorate. And while neighborhood activist Chas Redmond isn’t really “establishment,” his candidate profile traditionally performs well among more moderate, change-skeptical voters.
It appears likely that at least one of these “establishment” candidates will make it through, setting us up for a more traditional face-off in the fall. For now, though, the low number of votes necessary for advancement (perhaps well under 5,000), combined with the unusually divided electorate, makes this moderate-leaning group a major x-factor.
District 2: Affordability voters
I previously wrote that D2, which primarily encompasses Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley, is Seattle’s most distinct district. It’s majority-minority, working-class, and has many Democratic voters who vote their pocketbook on tax issues. I suggested that, some day, the mix of lefty voters and pocketbook voters might result in big fireworks. Good thing I emphasized the “some day” part.
This year, Seattle’s most distinct district doesn’t have its most distinct race. So far, Tammy Morales’ challenge of incumbent Councilmember Bruce Harrell is similar to spirited efforts of past. Morales self-identifies as a “true progressive,” and speaks widely about affordability, but not in the context of tax burdens. It’s long-shot candidate Josh Farris, an anti-eviction activist with connections to the Socialist Alternative Party, who explicitly mentions property taxes as contributing to an affordability crunch.
No doubt, affordability will continue to be a major issue in this race. For now, it appears that both Harrell and Morales are approaching the taxes from a traditionally liberal perspective: building infrastructure and social services, even if it requires regressive taxes. That is smart, considering that the middle-class electorate here is quite liberal. However, with a $930 million property tax measure headed to the fall ballot, watch for the candidates to make overtures to voters who feel themselves swimming against the financial tide.