Moments ago, KCTS9, in coop­er­a­tion with the Cen­ter for Sur­vey Research at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, released the results of this year’s Wash­ing­ton Poll. The Wash­ing­ton Poll is a wide­ly respect­ed elec­toral sur­vey direct­ed by Dr. Matt Bar­reto, who serves as an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the UW in Seat­tle. It is con­duct­ed annu­al­ly, and because its find­ings have his­tor­i­cal­ly cor­re­lat­ed more strong­ly with actu­al elec­tion results, it is con­sid­ered to be a very cred­i­ble poll.

We at NPI are not over­ly fond of polling. Obses­sion with poll num­bers has, in our view, dis­tort­ed the tra­di­tion­al medi­a’s cov­er­a­he pf pol­i­tics and elec­tions. Horse-race style cov­er­age (in which the focus is on who’s win­ning and who’s los­ing) has become more pre­dom­i­nant, dis­plac­ing sto­ries pro­duced as a result of actu­al news­gath­er­ing (which admit­ted­ly costs more to do, but is con­se­quent­ly much more valuable).

Nev­er­the­less, well-direct­ed and thought­ful­ly con­duct­ed pub­lic opin­ion research deserves our atten­tion, and the Wash­ing­ton Poll is cer­tain­ly such a sur­vey. Unlike oth­er polls, it only comes out once a year, and it is con­duct­ed by live callers call­ing both mobile lines and land­lines (as opposed to auto­mat­ed dial­ing software).

The 2012 Wash­ing­ton Poll was in the field begin­ning Octo­ber 1st and end­ing two days ago (Tues­day, Octo­ber 16th). Inter­views gen­er­al­ly were about a half hour in length. The sam­ples are com­posed of sev­en hun­dred and eighty-two reg­is­tered vot­ers and six hun­dred and forty-four like­ly vot­ers were inter­viewed. Mar­gins of error for these sam­ples are 3.5% and 3.9%, respectively.

Here’s a look at the results.

For pres­i­dent, the poll finds Barack Oba­ma with a very com­fort­able lead. 51.8% of reg­is­tered vot­ers are cer­tain or plan­ning to vote for Oba­ma, while only 41.3% are cer­tain or plan­ning to vote for Rom­ney. The num­bers are not so dif­fer­ent for the sam­ple of like­ly vot­ers… 51.9% Oba­ma, 42.9% Rom­ney. Less than four per­cent of each group of respon­dents char­ac­ter­ized them­selves as undecided.

Oba­ma’s lead in Puget Sound tops 60% accord­ing to the crosstabs, and he has an even stronger lead statewide among women vot­ers (54.6% to Rom­ney’s 37.9%) and young vot­ers (57.3% to 34.1%).

The gov­er­nor’s race is much clos­er. Jay Inslee has a nar­row lead, but his lead is with­in the mar­gin of error. Among reg­is­tered vot­ers, Inslee leads 47.9% to 44.7%. Among like­ly vot­ers, Inslee leads 48.3% to 45.1%.

The break­down shows that Inslee is ahead in Puget Sound, while McKen­na is ahead every­where else. McKen­na has a slight edge among male vot­ers but it is at a slight dis­ad­van­tage with female vot­ers. Repub­li­cans are slight­ly more like­ly to vote for McKen­na (95.5%) than Democ­rats are to vote for Inslee (89.5%).

Inslee’s strongest sup­port­ers are young peo­ple. 55.6% of those between the ages of eigh­teen and twen­ty-nine are for Inslee, with only 36.4% for McKen­na. McKen­na, on the oth­er hand, does not have a com­fort­able lead with the oth­er age groups. He leads Inslee with each age group above thir­ty, but not by very much.

The U.S. Sen­ate race looks like it will be a blowout. Maria Cantwell is way ahead, with 58.3% cer­tain or lean­ing towards vot­ing for her. Baum­gart­ner’s share of the vote is only 34.8%. Among like­ly vot­ers, Cantwell’s share drops to 57.7% and Baum­gart­ner’s increas­es to 35.4%, but it’s not much of a dif­fer­ence. Cantwell is ahead in every area of the state except the east, where she and Baum­gart­ner are rough­ly even. Young peo­ple are over­whelm­ing­ly in Cantwell’s cor­ner (65.7% to Baum­gart­ner’s 26.1%), but she leads with every age group.

The Wash­ing­ton Poll also looked at bal­lot mea­sures. Respon­dents were asked about each of the three ini­tia­tives on the bal­lot, along with Ref­er­en­dum 74 (mar­riage equality).

The poll found that sup­port for Tim Eyman’s I‑1185 is only at 53.6%. Oppo­si­tion stands at 31.2%. Con­sid­er­ing how few resources have been put into the NO cam­paign, that’s a fair­ly encour­ag­ing result. Only 37.8% described them­selves as cer­tain they were vot­ing for I‑1185. An addi­tion­al 13.3% described them­selves as yes, but could change. A fur­ther 2.5% are unde­cid­ed, but lean yes.

23.8% of respon­dents, mean­while, are firm­ly opposed. 5.7% are opposed but could change their minds, and 1.7% lean no. 14.6% describe them­selves as unde­cid­ed. For an issue that’s been on the bal­lot before, most recent­ly two years ago, that seems like a pret­ty high num­ber of unde­cid­ed vot­ers. There is clear­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty for pro­gres­sives to bring the yes vote for I‑1185 down in the final weeks of the campaign.

The num­bers for like­ly vot­ers are not much dif­fer­ent, so I won’t go over them.

I‑1240, the lat­est attempt to bring char­ter schools to Wash­ing­ton, appears to be in trou­ble. The total yes vote is below the fifty per­cent mark, which indi­cates that vot­ers have doubts about the mea­sure. Only 34.1% are cer­tain yes. 30% are cer­tain they’re vot­ing no. 10.6% are plan­ning to vote yes but could change their minds, and 7.3% are plan­ning to vote no but could change. A fur­ther 2.8% and 1.9% are unde­cid­ed but lean yes and no, respec­tive­ly, while 12.6% are sim­ply undecided.

As with I‑1185, the num­bers for like­ly vot­ers are not much dif­fer­ent, so I won’t go over them.

I‑502, the ini­tia­tive to legal­ize mar­i­jua­na, has a respectable lead among reg­is­tered vot­ers (50.9% total yes, 40.8% total no). I‑502’s over­all lead among like­ly vot­ers is not as impres­sive (47.1% total yes to 40.1% total no), but the per­cent­age of like­ly vot­ers who are firm nos (31.8%) is sev­er­al per­cent­age points low­er than the sam­ple of reg­is­tered vot­ers (35%), while the num­ber of respon­dents who described them­selves as cer­tain to vote for I‑502 was about the same.

The per­cent­age of vot­ers unde­cid­ed also dif­fered between the sam­ples. 7.6% of reg­is­tered vot­ers say they’re unde­cid­ed, but that ris­es to 11.7% for like­ly voters.

Final­ly, the Wash­ing­ton Poll looked at Ref­er­en­dum 74 (mar­riage equal­i­ty). For Ref­er­en­dum 74, the results were adjust­ed to account for what Bar­reto and his team call “social desir­abil­i­ty bias”. Here’s what they mean by that:

Bal­lot ini­tia­tives on mar­riage equal­i­ty tend to over-report the mar­gin of vic­to­ry for those cam­paigns. The Wash­ing­ton Poll’s esti­mate of yes votes on Ref­er­en­dum 71 was with­in the mar­gin of error, but we under esti­mat­ed the per­cent of no votes.

To rec­ti­fy this, we includ­ed two items on this year’s poll designed to mea­sure social desir­abil­i­ty bias.

The first ques­tion asked indi­vid­u­als if they lied on the sur­vey; the sec­ond asked if any top­ics made them uncom­fort­able. Both groups of peo­ple in the Yes on 74 and the No on 74 camp report­ed lying at rates that did not dif­fer from the sam­ple aver­age. Those who report­ed that they would not vote on the issue and those who were unde­cid­ed report­ed lying at rates high­er than the sam­ple average.

This rela­tion­ship remained sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant for those who were unde­cid­ed even after run­ning a log­it mod­el to con­trol for reli­gios­i­ty, age, ide­ol­o­gy and par­ti­san­ship. Addi­tion­al­ly, those who report­ed that they weren’t vot­ing on the issue report­ed being more uncom­fort­able with the ques­tions about les­bians and gay men.

A high­er per­cent­age of peo­ple in this group were more uncom­fort­able with these ques­tions than those who vot­ed report­ed vot­ing no.

2.15% of those who said that they were vot­ing for Ref­er­en­dum 74 said that they were uncom­fort­able with the ques­tions about gay men and lesbians.

In light of these results, we adjust­ed the point esti­mate. The result is a con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mate of social desir­abil­i­ty bias. We kept the Yes on 74 and No on 74 columns sta­ble except for the yeses who report­ed dis­com­fort on the sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion ques­tion. We then moved the unde­cid­eds and those who report­ed that they would not vote on the issue into the No on 74 col­umn because they report­ed lying more than those who were decid­ed. This result­ed in a point esti­mate of 52.9 to 46.6, a 6.3 point difference.

The adjust­ed results for Ref­er­en­dum 54 show the “Approve” side ahead, 52.9% to 46.6%.

Vot­ers who live west of the Cas­cades are far more sup­port­ive of mar­riage equal­i­ty than vot­ers who live to the east, which is not sur­pris­ing. A plu­ral­i­ty of vot­ers in every age group are sup­port­ive of mar­riage equal­i­ty, but young vot­ers — and vot­ers approach­ing retire­ment — are far more enthu­si­as­tic than seniors and mid­dle-age vot­ers. Take a look:

Age groupApproveRejectUnde­cid­ed
Age 18–29 (born late 1980s or 1990s)68.2%26.1%5.7%
Age 30–44 (born 1970s, 1980s)50.2%39.1%10.7%
Age 44–65 (born 1950s, 1960s)59.1%34.3%6.6%
Age 66+ (born before the fifties)48.6%41.5%9.9%

These results are remark­able. Look at which age groups are clos­est to one anoth­er. Vot­ers born in the late 1980s or 1990s (Gen­er­a­tion Y, the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion) are very enthu­si­as­tic about mar­riage equal­i­ty; that’s to be expect­ed. But the age group they’re clos­est to on this fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of civ­il rights is not the thir­ty to forty-four year olds. It’s the forty-four to six­ty-five year olds — Wash­ing­to­ni­ans born in the fifties and six­ties — who are near­est to them. A sur­pris­ing 59.1% of vot­ers in that age group are in the Approve column.

The most senior age group — those over six­ty-six — divide some­what along the same lines as the Gen­er­a­tion X group, though there are slight­ly more peo­ple in the Reject col­umn and slight­ly few­er in the Approve column.

These results sug­gest that Ref­er­en­dum 74 is on track to be approved in a few weeks. The divi­sive Reject cam­paign is kick­ing into high gear, but they have a tough hill to climb. Sup­port for mar­riage equal­i­ty has been steadi­ly build­ing over the years, dri­ven by young peo­ple, who are clear­ly shift­ing pub­lic opin­ion in a healthy, pro­gres­sive direction.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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