The results of a poll released Monday on the 2011 and 2012 elections may be proof positive that Washington State is still every bit the eclectic grab bag that political junkies have come to know and expect.

Though the poll conducted last week by the bipartisan political consulting firm Strategies 360 found Washington State’s skin is still a reliable shade of light blue, it also gave tell-tale signs that politicians wanting to get in sync with the inner beauty of voters will still need to look below the surface. The survey found a wide range of attitudes among 500 likely voters in Washington State, a bittersweet mix of indicators that Washington has the potential to break for a Republican governor and a Democratic president next year.

On a range of questions covering statewide initiatives on the 2011 ballot, the 2012 gubernatorial and presidential races, the state of the economy, opinions of Congress, and attitudes on high-profile social issues such as the taxation of medical marijuana and gay marriage, the tabulation of responses produces a profile of Washington State that defies attempts at typecasting.

While State Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna came out ahead by 7 points against Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee in a head-to-head question on the 2012 election, in the presidential race, Pres. Barack Obama was found to hold a slight lead over the Republican front-runners Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Respondents also reported feeling that we have not reached the turning point toward economic recovery, and that both the nation and Washington State are heading in the wrong direction.

On the question of where the U.S. is in its path to economic recovery, only 7% said the country had “turned the corner,” with 38% stating that worse times are ahead and 48% feeling that the crisis has stabilized.

State Fiscal Woes Set Stage for Shake-Up in Olympia

On separate questions about the direction of the nation and the state, Washington State fares only slightly better than the nation as a whole in the perception of those surveyed. While 64% of respondents said the U.S. is on the wrong course, 57% said that of the State of Washington, with the greatest dissatisfaction among self-identified Republican and independents.

Consensus on who deserves the blame for the nation’s errant course was also nonpartisan, with the U.S. Congress receiving only a 14% approval from all respondents with no significant deviation based on party identification.

Though Democrats largely split on the question of the state of the nation (38% said the U.S. is on right track, 44% wrong track), Republicans (including McKenna) may see opportunity in the large numbers of voters in relatively blue Western Washington who feel a course correction in Olympia is needed.

A majority of respondents in the regions north, south, and west of King County confirmed their belief that Washington State is on the “wrong track,” and in King County that idea was held by 48% of those surveyed with a significant block (13%) either undecided or refusing to answer. The poll may have captured the essence of a headwind for Republicans in their quest to regain majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, an effort that will require party switches in at least 11 legislative seats, gains that will need to come primarily in Western Washington districts.

The pollsters also asked voters what steps they would like to see taken to correct the almost $1.5 billion state budget deficit and found an even split between a solution favoring mostly spending cuts (40% support) and a balanced approach with both spending cuts and tax increases (44%), but almost no support for leaving cuts to programs off the table entirely (11%). Even among Republicans interviewed, support was split between prioritizing cuts and an answer that equalizes taxes and cuts, a sign that some in the GOP base could be sensing that a ‘cuts only’ approach could slash deeply into necessary state programs.

If the poll truly reflects the sentiments of the Washington State electorate, it bodes well for McKenna who has talked about a balanced solution to the state’s fiscal troubles while Inslee has only talked about stimulus-styled initiatives to use state resources to spur job creation.

McKenna Edges Past Inslee with Crossover Votes

If Republicans in Washington State want to end 30 years of Democratic domination in the governor’s office, McKenna’s cross-over appeal gives them the most legitimate chance to do so.

In a race that many political reporters and analysts are ranking as among the top two hottest gubernatorial matchups in the nation, on the marquee question (who would respondents choose between McKenna and Inslee if the election were held today), McKenna held a 7-point advantage in the Strategies 360 poll, with 46% of respondents choosing McKenna over 39% selecting Inslee.

If McKenna’s path to victory is to persuade Democrats to cross-over (as he has in two statewide elections for attorney general) and independents to fall on his side of the fence, the Strategies 360 poll is good news. Among Democrats, 12% line up with McKenna, Inslee only polls 3% support from self-identified Republicans, and McKenna wins the battle for independent voters (19% of those surveyed) by 16 points.

The raw numbers on the head-to-head race are not where the bad news ends for Inslee. Though both candidates showed lukewarm but positive favorability, Inslee’s name failed to ring a bell with a sizable chunk of those surveyed. Among all respondents, 29% were unfamiliar with Inslee, including 25% of Democrats and 29% of independent. When broken in to geographic regions, the percentage saying that they were unfamiliar with Inslee only drops below 30% in King County, and in Eastern Washington soars to 43%.

The Race for the White House

Pres. Barack Obama still draws stronger approval from Washington State voters than from the general population, with 50% of respondents giving him a favorable rating compared to 46% unfavorable. But the President’s unfavorable numbers were bottom-heavy with “very unfavorable” marks leading “somewhat unfavorables” by two-to-one.

The Strategies 360 poll also matched Obama against Republican presidential primary front-runners Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and found him beating both challengers. The poll reports a 9-point edge for Obama against Romney (49% Obama, 40% Romney) and a 14-point advantage against Perry (51% Obama, 37% Perry).

Same Old Mixed Bag on Ballot Measures and Social Issues

Opinions about ballot measures coming up in front of voters this November were also probed, as were general attitudes on pressing social issues such as gay marriage, legalizing marijuana use, and taxing medical marijuana sales.

On the question of privatizing liquor sales and distribution (the proposal put forward by Initiative 1183), a slim majority of respondents registered support for the measure – 51% in favor and 44% against, but a statistical dead heat when considering the poll’s margin of error (±4.9% for the 400 voter subsample on 2011 ballot issues) and the 5% undecideds.

An overwhelming 70% of respondents reported strong support for taxing medical marijuana sales, compared to only 22% in opposition to the idea.  But on the question of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Washingtonians are deadlocked, 46% for legalization and 46% against.

Finally, when asked the straight up-or-down question on whether gay and lesbian marriage should be made legal, 54% of the voters polled said yes, while only 35% remain in opposition. Independents still form the deciding block on the issue, coming in at 56% in support of legalizing gay marriage in Washington State.


In a sense, the conclusions of what the Strategies 360 poll means for Washington State politics can only be determined by the results of elections, but if economic issues remain center-stage the advantage seems to be in the Republican court.

The margin of error for the Strategies 360 poll is reported as ±4.4% for questions using the full sample of 500 likely Washington State voters and ±4.9% for the subsample of 400 likely 2011 Washington State voters. Complete details of the poll are available on the firm’s website.


[photo credit: vernhart]