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Poll: WA feels good about the economy, bad about Trump’s tariffs

A new Crosscut/Elway Poll finds that while there is some alignment on major economic attitudes, registered voters are still divided by partisanship and geography.

Tariffs are a major concern in Washington state, where exports, many of which travel through the Port of Seattle, represent nearly 20% of the gross domestic product. (Photo by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

The differences between the dry side of Washington and the wetter west are abundant. To the east, Washingtonians bask in the sun, skew conservative, and pride themselves on their rural agriculture. On the other side of the Cascade Range, the population is concentrated in overcast Seattle, where tech startups proliferate and the voters lean left, though the entire western portion of the state does split more evenly when it comes to politics.

Yet, both sides have been impacted by the Trump administration’s economic policies, along with the rest of the nation. Tax cuts passed in late 2017 have lowered rates for a majority of tax brackets, with the richest 20% receiving half of the benefits. An embrace of tariffs has resulted in a trade war that has affected balance sheets and pocketbooks. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest it’s been in 50 years, at 3.7%, and, despite some volatility, the stock market remains at historic highs.

Crosscut was curious what Washington residents think of this shifting economy and whether the two sides of the state are feeling the impacts of these changes in similar or different ways. To find out, Crosscut pollster Stuart Elway, of Elway Research, conducted a poll of registered voters across the state. Between Aug. 1 and 6, he asked 500 Washingtonians questions on a variety of economic factors.

The picture that the results paint is of a population that is feeling good about the economy, but that disagrees over many of the mechanisms that shape that economy. The defining factor in many of those disagreements is partisanship, largely mirrored in our state’s geography.

The poll did find some disparity when it came to general attitudes toward the economy. One-third of both Seattle and Eastern Washington agree that their households are better off financially than two years ago, with about half saying they remained the same. But when it came to the state economy, 39% of respondents in Western Washington (including Seattle and King County) said they believe it is now stronger than it was two years ago. Meanwhile, out east, only a quarter thought it was stronger (while most felt it had stayed the same).

There was more consensus when looking to the economic future. About one-quarter of both groups believe the state economy would be somewhat stronger a year from now, one-quarter said it would be somewhat weaker, and the majority of both groups responded that it would stay the same.

As expected, there were stark differences between east and west when it comes to how the state economy is affected by environmental regulations, health care and globalization. The divide was more surprising when looking at the effects of our education system, with almost half of Seattle agreeing that it helps our state economy while 40% of those east of the mountains say it’s hurting us.

 

Crosscut/Elway Poll

 

Uniting, somewhat, on tariffs

There were some areas of agreement, one of which was tariffs. Elway asked whether the tariffs have had a positive, negative or neutral impact on both a respondent's household and their community. The results were gloomy, and somewhat uniform.

Only 5% of Seattle respondents reported that the tariffs have had a positive impact on their household. King County (excluding Seattle) and the east largely agreed with that sentiment, ringing in at 10%.

Differences became apparent in the percentage of respondents who reported negative impacts ("none" was also an option). Over half of respondents in Seattle and King County said they saw negative impacts from the tariffs on their communities, while only 35% of easterners said the same.

Elway says that the state's agricultural economy is a large reason why you see negative feedback on tariffs, but there may be a political reason for such high negativity in the west.

“You would expect that the tariffs are really hurting the agricultural community,” he says. “I think in Seattle, it’s probably more partisanship.”

Elway says if someone doesn’t support Trump, that may transfer over to their beliefs on the economy.

" 'That’s a Trump policy, I don’t like Trump, therefore it’s having a negative impact,' " he says, impersonating a Trump critic. “There’s also indications that the economy is slowing down, there’s a lot of talk of recession. So if I think the economy is slowing down, I think the tariffs may be involved in that, then I’m going to say they’re going to have a negative impact also.” 

 

Poll Results for Tariffs

 

That is the case with Marvin Scoggin, a 53-year-old independent voter living in southeastern Washington, who took part in the poll. He’s self-employed in the agricultural sector and says the tariffs haven’t played out well for him.

“The effect on the price of commodities, the price of wheat especially. Hopefully, that will be a short-term thing,” he says. “The tariffs are put there to accomplish certain goals and once those goals are met, then the tariffs can be lifted. Then, theoretically, things should get better than what they were before. But right now, there is the downside of the tariffs.”

While Trump has pledged billions toward farmers to make up for losses from the ongoing trade war with China, the National Farmers Union president called the subsidies a “temporary” solution that doesn't solve the "permanent damage" created by the trade war. The American Farm Bureau Federation called for an end to the trade war and tariffs affecting agriculture after Trump’s May announcement of an additional $16 billion for farmers. 

Yet the tariffs aren’t just negatively affecting farmers. Consumers can see the impacts reflected in the cost of goods, as Trump finally conceded about his most recent tariffs, scheduled to take effect in December. 

Fellow Eastern Washington resident Mona Storrud, also an independent, is not a fan of the tariffs for that reason. She’s a 64-year-old retiree who lives 40 minutes north of Spokane, in Deer Park, with her daughter and three grandchildren.

“I think you’re going to see it around the holidays when people start shopping for the holidays,” she says. “I hope for the best, but everybody's going to get hit a little. And with any good luck, maybe the Chinese will back down.”

On the other side of the state, in King County, is 50-year-old Democrat Kenneth Harrison. He lives in Burien and works for a gourmet food manufacturer. He believes that most of the cost is being handed down to the consumer.

“Let’s be clear, China is not paying tariffs, the American people are paying the tariffs,” Harrison says. “The manufacturing company I work for, we are a gourmet chocolatier, and we import a lot of products. Some of those products are from China because they’re just simply not made here, and we have seen anywhere between a 10 to 15% cost rise in our raw materials.”

Matt Finnell, a 34-year-old Democrat who lives in Seattle, works in the nonprofit sector, and agrees with the sentiment of Americans carrying the burden.

“What you're seeing with tariffs is that they're being paid by importers, that cost is getting pushed along to consumers. So that's the negative impact it's had on our particular life,” he says. “From what I've read, at least, and from what I've heard, you get people going into deeper debt, hoping that it will turn itself around and that's not really working out.”

Particulars and partisanship

Tariffs aren’t the only factor shaping people’s opinions on the economy. Washingtonians were also polled on several factors that shape the state economy and were asked whether they helped, hurt, or had a neutral impact. Striking differences between east and west arose when respondents were asked about environmental protection regulations and globalization of the economy, as well as education.

Only one-fifth of easterners who were polled said they think education is helping the state economy, whereas almost half of Seattle residents see education as helping.

The difference on education was surprising to Elway, who says he again sees partisanship at play.

“You wouldn’t really expect that big of difference in education,” he says. “The striking feature of this poll was the partisan differences. The party difference sort of colors everyone’s view of almost any issue.”

 

Poll Results for Education

 

Geography can be seen as a kind of proxy for this partisan divide, as all but one of the counties east of the Cascades voted for Trump in 2016.

Drew Vance is a 36-year-old software engineer in Seattle, born and raised in the city, who moved back eight years ago and is an independent. He supports the education system, using the University of Washington as an example.

“There’s a lot of great research that comes out of there and a lot of it gets spun off into startups,” Vance says. “Working in the tech industry and an entrepreneurial ecosystem, I see a lot of fresh grads who come out of it with a lot of good ideas and energy.”

Storrud, in Deer Park, sides with her eastern counterparts on the matter of education. She also thinks that environmental protections are having a negative impact on the economy, at a cost to our education system. 

“Our schools are being cut back so bad, only for the governor’s environmentalist little programs, and they take it out of the schools,” she says. 

Unsurprisingly, the state is also split between east and west when it comes to views on environmentalism. When asked how environmental protection regulations are affecting the state economy, over half of Seattleites say they help. King County (not including Seattle) tapers down to only one-third approval, and last is the east, with only one-fifth agreeing that they help.

Out east, Scoggin doesn’t think environmental regulations strengthen the Washington economy. As an example, Scoggin offers up timber cutting permits.

“In order to get a timber cutting permit, you had to basically agree to all these environmental protection steps,” Scoggin says. “Maybe it made perfect sense for Western Washington, where you had all the rain, but in Eastern Washington, we don't have that situation. Yet we’re having to put up with the regulations as if we’re in that environment.”

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Workers sort apples at the Stemilt fruit packing plant in Wenatchee, Wash., July 13, 2017. (Photo by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Vance, over in Seattle, thinks it’s worth it to invest in environmental protections.

“Green energy and green jobs is going to be the future,” Vance says. “If you take a mountain and you rip all the coal out of it, then you’ve made money for a little bit while you’re ripping apart a mountain. But now you’re just stuck with a pile of rubble, right? It’s not a sustainable way to run the economy. In general, I think that there’s not really the trade-off there that a lot of people think.”

Finnell also supports a robust environmental approach to the economy. He says the state is doing good work to keep fisheries and logging industries sustainable.

“Environmental regulation not only keeps the population healthy, it creates a more sustainable economy,” he says. “You can't have a sustainable economy without regulation, especially when it comes to environmental concerns.”

Another concern posed to voters was the effect on our state economy of economic globalization, which includes the exchange of goods and services, technology, and labor across borders. While over half of Seattle thought it helps the local economy, that number decreased to under half in King County, and plummeted to 20% in the east.

Vance says globalization has improved certain sectors, including the tech sector where he works.

“We produce a lot of software. I think that I’m kind of looking at this through the lens of my career, which is how maybe a lot of people will view the economy,” Vance says. “When Microsoft goes and sells Office licenses in the Philippines, that’s globalization. It’s not just about cheap goods coming from China.”

Harrison, in Burien, sees globalization of the workforce as a positive for Washington, a state that relied on exports for almost 20% of its GDP. Meanwhile, he is mindful of his fellow Washingtonian on the other side of the Cascades and the impacts of Trump’s tariffs. 

“I think we have a huge tech sector that is very much helped by an influx of foreign workers,” Harrison says. “I think our agriculture is hurt very badly by these tariffs. I think that having open global markets only helps our agricultural sector.”

Yet, many of the people Harrison is sympathizing with disagree with him on this perception of the east. While half or more of Seattle and King County said tariffs are negatively affecting their communities, only one-third of the east said the same. 

This once again reflects Elway’s observations on partisanship coming into play. While conservatives in the east may be negatively affected by tariffs, he says, they appear to be more hesitant to criticize the policies of the person they voted into office. 

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Poll: WA feels good about the economy, bad about Trump’s tariffs

About the Authors & Contributors

Emily McCarty

Emily McCarty is the Central Washington Reporter for Crosscut. She covers everything that happens from Twisp to the Tri-Cities.