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Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Majority of Washingtonians surveyed support Democratic Party in 2017 legislative elections

Given the opportunity to cast a vote in a special state House race or state Senate contest this year — ordinarily just a local election year — most Washingtonians surveyed say they would support the Democratic Party’s candidates.

Last week, we asked 887 likely 2018 voters this question:

QUESTION: If your district was holding a special election for the state Senate or the state House today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your district?


  • Democratic candidate: 51%
  • Republican candidate: 39%
  • Not sure: 10%

This is what’s known as a generic ballot question, because it doesn’t ask voters about specific candidates, but rather about their party preferences in a current or upcoming election. In our survey, a majority of respondents indicated they’d vote for the Democratic candidate if their district was holding a special election this year, while only 39% said they’d vote for the Republican candidate. 10% were not sure.

Our survey of 887 likely 2018 Washington State voters was in the field from June 27th-28th, 2017; all respondents participated via landline. The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, has a margin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% confidence level.

These numbers are from a statewide survey with a statewide sample, and it’s important to know that most legislative districts in the state don’t have special elections this year. The five districts that do are as follows:

  • 7th Legislative District: House and Senate
    • Why: A vacancy was created when Brian Dansel resigned to join the Trump administration. Another vacancy was created when Shelley Short moved from the House to the Senate.
    • District Type: Safe Republican
  • 31st Legislative District: House and Senate
    • Why: A vacancy was created when Pam Roach resigned to join the Pierce County Council. Another vacancy was created when Phil Fortunato moved from the House to the Senate.
    • District Type: Likely Republican
  • 37th Legislative District: Senate
    • Why: A vacancy was created when Pramila Jayapal resigned to become a United States Representative
    • District Type: Safe Democratic
  • 45th Legislative District: Senate
    • Why: A vacancy was created when Andy Hill died of cancer
    • District Type: Battleground
  • 48th Legislative District: House and Senate
    • Why: A vacancy was created when Cyrus Habib resigned to become Lieutenant Governor. Another vacancy was created when Patty Kuderer moved from the House to the Senate.
    • District Type: Safe Democratic

Click on the links to see profiles of each district.

Of the five districts with special elections, the 45th is considered the big battleground. If the Democratic Party takes the 45th, the Senate will flip, and the party will have control of both chambers in the Washington State Legislature. It is possible that seats in other districts could flip, but it isn’t as likely.

Strange things do happen sometimes in elections, like last month, when a constituency in England that had been electing Tories for a century elected a Labour candidate instead. (Read more about what happened in Canterbury.)

I should mention that there is no chance the 37th will flip this year because Democratic incumbent Rebecca Saldaña happens to be unopposed.

We don’t have a breakout of responses only from the 45th, but we do know how people responded based on their area code, and since this particular survey of Washington voters was of landlines only, the area code of our respondents’ phone numbers has a correlation with their actual location.

The 45th District falls within the area that uses the 425 code, which encompasses the Eastside of King County and parts of Snohomish County, but does not include heavily Democratic Seattle or heavily Republican Eastern Washington. Looking at the answers from only this group of respondents gives us a better idea as to the party preferences of Washingtonians who dwell in the suburbs.

Answers from the 425 area code only were:

QUESTION: If your district was holding a special election for the state Senate or the state House today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your district?


  • Democratic candidate: 59%
  • Republican candidate: 30%
  • Not sure: 11%

Compared to the sample as a whole, enthusiasm for the Democratic Party is higher among respondents with (425) numbers, and enthusiasm for the Republican Party is correspondingly lower. That’s practically a two-to-one margin for the Democrats. The percentage of respondents who aren’t sure is about the same.

What’s interesting about this data is how it compares to the most recent elections for Legislature in the 45th. Take a look — this was last year’s contest between Democratic State Representative Roger Goodman and his challenger, Republican Ramiro Valderrama, a city councilmember from Sammamish:

Roger Goodman: 61.87% (42,981 votes)
Ramiro Valderrama: 38.13% (26,491 votes)
Total Votes (not including write-ins): 69,472

There isn’t a “not sure” option on the ballot in a real election, only a write-in option, but note that Roger Goodman was able to garner more than 60% of the vote in the 45th last year, while Ramiro Valderrama couldn’t crack 40%, despite having been elected to represent one of the district’s larger cities.

Granted, this was a presidential year with fairly high turnout, but if we look back further (Goodman also won by a convincing margin in 2014, for instance) we can see a clear trend: the 45th is becoming increasingly Democratic. It enthusiastically supported Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates in 2016. It is a district that is slipping away from the Republicans — and they know it.

The Democratic Party is fielding senior deputy prosecutor Manka Dhingra in the special election in the 45th, while the Republican Party is fielding a protege of Dino Rossi and Cathy McMorris Rodgers — Jinyoung Lee Englund.

The candidates have very different backgrounds and campaign themes. Dhingra has emphasized the need to invest in schools and mental health, and has built a very grassroots-oriented campaign, with a large teen volunteer force, while Englund — who only registered to vote in the district a week prior to announcing —  is running against “Seattle style politics” and is relying heavily on paid canvassers.

Ballots in the August Top Two election will be mailed in a few days; the first results will be reported on Tuesday, August 1st, 2017. That’s when we’ll have numbers from a real election to compare to this survey data.

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