WA voters split on handling the pandemic and the economy, poll finds

The latest data shows Washingtonians who were polled were more pessimistic about the future as well.

person outside a car at a testing center in Bellingham

COVID-19 testing specialist Susana Blasco reaches forward with a swab to test a driver at a drive-up coronavirus testing location on Dec. 21, 2021, in Bellingham. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Washington voters are pessimistic about 2022, according to the newest Crosscut/Elway Poll.

The poll, conducted during the last week of December, found that 52% of Washington voters anticipate conditions to get worse in the country, while 43% expect improvement. Similarly, 49% predict things to worsen in the state, while 47% said the opposite. 

While survey respondents were more hopeful about what the year holds for their communities and households, the results signal a notable shift from poll results a year ago.

The current poll, which took place from Dec. 26 to Dec. 28, asked 400 voters around the state to share their perspectives on topics including the pandemic and the economy. In the past year, Washingtonians experienced COVID-related changes 一 the emergence of new variants, tightened vaccine and mask requirements and evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 一 as well as economic phenomena such as soaring inflation.

Possibly as a result of having lived through a year with little relief from the pandemic in sight, poll respondents were the most pessimistic they had been since summer 2011, said pollster Stuart Elway. He noted that people tend to feel most optimistic when asked about their and their household’s future.

“It’s often the case that the country is going to hell,” he said, “and the state and the community are somewhere in between.”

The poll has a 5% margin of error at a 95% confidence level, which means if the survey had been conducted 100 times, the results would be within 5 percentage points of the results reported here at least 95 times.

Each poll is a snapshot in time featuring the thoughts of different groups of people and can only estimate what the whole population is thinking. The results are balanced to reflect the statewide population of registered voters.

The responses were divided along both political lines and geographic regions.

In this May 6, 2020 file photo, a person rides past a boarded up and closed Old Navy clothing store in downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Fewer pandemic setbacks

A bigger share of Washingtonians reported close contact with COVID than the previous year, but seemed less impacted by the virus in their personal and professional lives.

More than three-quarters of respondents, for example, said they personally knew someone who had COVID, up from the 55% who said the same in last year’s poll. More than a quarter of respondents reported that they themselves or someone in their household have had COVID ー more than double the percentage in the previous results.

Yet 2021 brought with it a sense of change on the COVID front.

In this year's poll people were less likely to report working from home, having reduced work hours, being furloughed or losing their job since the beginning of the pandemic, while 8% said they or someone in their household voluntarily quit their jobs in that period.

During last year’s holiday season the state announced it would maintain a partial lockdown, prohibiting indoor dining and gatherings. Now a majority of the Evergreen State’s population is fully vaccinated, and more people reported gathering over the holidays with friends and family members.

The share of respondents who reported gathering with extended family during the holidays (45%) more than doubled from the previous year, while the people who reported gathering with friends in person (37%) more than tripled. At 30%, respondents were six times more likely to report going to a restaurant or holiday celebration compared with a year ago, when 5% reported doing so.

Nancy Zimmermann, 66, of Sequim, was active this holiday season, working as a coordinator for Toys for Tots. Her role led her to socialize and attend fundraisers, meaning she got out and about this year.

“Much more than I did the year before, which was when we were really locked down,” said Zimmermann, who participated in the poll.

Zimmermann identifies as a Republican, a group that was nearly twice as likely as Democrats to say they spent the holidays with extended family or by going out to restaurants or holiday celebrations. On the flip side, Democrats, at 66%, were more likely to say they spent the holidays with immediate family, compared with Republicans at 35%.

Compared with last year, a slightly smaller share of respondents reported they stayed home alone (18%), stayed home with people in their immediate households (53%), or saw loved ones over computer chats (19%). 

Divisions on navigating COVID

Respondents split on COVID-related measures 一 like masking and vaccine requirements 一 across political affiliation, region and gender.

When it came to governments requiring masks and proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses, 52% of respondents were in favor, while 45% opposed these restrictions. Those figures flipped when respondents were asked about a federal proposal mandating that private businesses require vaccinations of employees. Those in favor clocked in at 45%, while 52% opposed.

“I think the tipping point was the government shouldn’t be telling employers what to do,” Elway said of the less favorable response toward the proposal. 

Nearly 70% of respondents from Eastern Washington opposed requiring masks and proof of vaccination to enter businesses, while 61% of King County participants favored those practices. 

“I don’t think your job should be used against you to get a vaccine,” said Samuel Canfield, 36, who owns a tree service business in Port Orchard. “There’s gonna be people out there that want a vaccine. There’s gonna be people out there that don’t want a vaccine. There’s no changing those two minds.”

Canfield lives in Kitsap County and identifies as an Independent, a group that was more closely split about their feelings on the measures when compared with the two major parties. Democratic Washingtonians tended to support private sector vaccine requirements and COVID-related measures to enter businesses. Republicans largely disagreed, mirroring the national division on this topic.

More than 60% of women supported masks and proof of vaccination to enter businesses, while 55% of men disapproved. A little more than half of the women polled said they agreed with private sector vaccine requirements, while 58% of men disagreed.

“There’s a gender gap in party ID, and there’s a gender gap in all these issues that are also affected by partisanship,” Elway said. “And those are kind of symbiotic.”

Understanding the economy

Respondents also split on whether the government or COVID sat at the root of the country’s economic problems.

A total of 42% of respondents chalked these issues up to the pandemic and expected things to improve in the next few months. Meanwhile, 48% felt governmental policies were responsible for conditions that would not improve until new leadership is in place.

In Eastern Washington, 60% of respondents attributed economic problems to government policies, while participants in King County closely split on these questions.

Pamela Brooks, 33, of Seattle, identified the pandemic as most influential on the economy, remaining optimistic about what's to come.

“I’m hopeful that things will improve this year,” she said, adding that ideally the pandemic will shift into a more endemic phase.

Brooks identifies as a progressive and is a registered Democrat. More than 70% of poll participants who identified as Democrats chalked up economic issues to the pandemic, while 88% of Republicans felt government policies were responsible.

A majority of respondents (60%) said they have been unable to get items in light of possible supply-chain issues. Similarly, a majority felt the impact of rising prices.

“I drove 8,000 less miles this year than I did last year,” said Canfield of Port Orchard. “But I paid $3,500 more in gas.”

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