Seattle polling retrospective featured image
Seattle polling retrospective featured image

Less than one hun­dred hours from now, on Tues­day, August 17th, Wash­ing­ton State’s August 2021 Top Two elec­tion will be cer­ti­fied and the results of the qual­i­fy­ing round of this year’s local elec­tions cycle will become final.

With no bal­lots list­ed by King Coun­ty Elec­tions as await­ing tab­u­la­tion, and with almost a month hav­ing now passed since we announced the elec­toral find­ings from our July 2021 sur­vey of the Seat­tle elec­torate, it seems like a good time to revis­it our poll find­ings and exam­ine to what extent they antic­i­pat­ed the out­comes in the actu­al returns tal­lied by King Coun­ty Elections.

Our sur­vey, con­duct­ed by Change Research from July 12th-15th, 2021, end­ed up being the only inde­pen­dent poll with pub­licly released results dur­ing the lead-up to August 3rd, the dead­line to return bal­lots in the elec­tion. While Elway Research did con­duct a poll on behalf of Cross­cut dur­ing that time­frame, it was a statewide poll, not a city poll, and so respon­dents were not asked about Seat­tle races.

At the time we were draw­ing up our 2021 research plans, our team dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ty that there might end up being a total dearth of inde­pen­dent elec­toral polling in Seat­tle this year, espe­cial­ly in the Top Two phase.

We agreed that NPI would step up to ensure that sce­nario would­n’t happen.

Choos­ing to expand our research polling to the local lev­el — build­ing on the statewide polling that we’ve been doing for over half a decade — has been one of the best deci­sions that our orga­ni­za­tion has ever made. I am grate­ful to our staff, our board, and our sup­port­ers for putting us in a posi­tion to answer the call.

As I wrote last month, our region sore­ly needs more cred­i­ble, inde­pen­dent pub­lic opin­ion research. NPI is step­ping up to meet the need. Reli­able data is a very use­ful resource to have in an era of ram­pant mis­in­for­ma­tion and disinformation.

While no poll can pre­dict the future, trust­wor­thy polling can pro­vide a valid snap­shot of what the elec­toral land­scape looks like ahead of an upcom­ing elec­tion, and sug­gest what vot­ers might col­lec­tive­ly decide in that election.

After results roll in, hav­ing trust­wor­thy polling to refer back to gives polit­i­cal observers more con­text to work with when try­ing to inter­pret the data and draw con­clu­sions about what hap­pened and why it happened.

We are now at such a post-elec­tion junc­ture. So let’s dive in and see how the results line up with our polling from last month!

Mayor of Seattle

What the poll found: Of the fif­teen can­di­date field, the poll indi­cat­ed that Bruce Har­rell and Lore­na González were the fron­trun­ners, with 32% (a plu­ral­i­ty) unde­cid­ed. Har­rell placed first in the poll and González sec­ond, with Colleen Echohawk, Jessyn Far­rell, and Andrew Grant Hous­ton trail­ing them.

Mayor of Seattle poll finding, 2021
A visu­al of NPI’s poll find­ing for May­or of Seat­tle, 2021

What hap­pened in the elec­tion: Vot­ers have select­ed Bruce Har­rell and Lore­na González as the Top Two can­di­dates. On Elec­tion Night, Har­rell had a ten point lead over González, a larg­er mar­gin than what he enjoyed in our polling. But in late bal­lots, his lead shrunk and González’s share of the vote grew. The two can­di­dates are now only two points apart, which sug­gests an extreme­ly com­pet­i­tive runoff for May­or in the gen­er­al elec­tion this autumn.

Cur­rent results (final results avail­able after August 17th):

Bruce HarrellBruce Har­rell

69,554 votes

M Lorena GonzálezM Lore­na González

65,627 votes

Colleen EchohawkColleen Echohawk

20,994 votes

Jessyn FarrellJessyn Far­rell

14,905 votes

Arthur K LanglieArthur K Langlie

11,362 votes

Casey SixkillerCasey Sixkiller

6,904 votes

Andrew Grant HoustonAndrew Grant Houston

5,473 votes

James DonaldsonJames Don­ald­son

3,212 votes

Lance RandallLance Ran­dall

2,800 votes

Clinton BlissClin­ton Bliss

1,615 votes

Omari Tahir-GarrettOmari Tahir-Gar­rett

390 votes

Bobby TuckerBob­by Tucker

374 votes

Henry C DennisonHen­ry C Dennison

346 votes

Stan LippmannStan Lipp­mann

322 votes

Don L RiversDon L Rivers

189 votes


Analy­sis: When it came time to make a deci­sion, most vot­ers who were unde­cid­ed went with one of the fron­trun­ners. That’s why both Har­rell and Gon­za­lez are so far out in front of the rest of the pack.

The poll indi­cat­ed Har­rell had the best chance of get­ting through due to hav­ing already gar­nered a strong base of sup­port and sug­gest­ed Gon­za­lez was the most like­ly can­di­date to get the oth­er spot. That’s pre­cise­ly what happened.

At the time the poll returned from the field, Colleen Echohawk was right behind Gon­za­lez, at 10%. Inter­est­ing­ly, that’s the exact same per­cent­age she’s get­ting in the actu­al elec­tion… 10.27%! In ret­ro­spect, it looks like Echohawk peaked around or some­time not long before our poll was in the field. She cer­tain­ly had a chance to con­nect with unde­cid­ed vot­ers, but they end­ed up with the frontrunners.

Jessyn Far­rell and Andrew Grant Hous­ton were the oth­er can­di­dates in the top tier, tied for fourth at 6%, respec­tive­ly. Far­rell did a lit­tle bit bet­ter in the elec­tion, gar­ner­ing 7.29%, while Grant Hous­ton did worse, pulling in 2.68%.

City Attorney

What the poll found: Per­haps no result from our sur­vey turned more heads than our find­ing for Seat­tle City Attor­ney. Our research indi­cat­ed that it was a three-way race between incum­bent Pete Holmes and his two chal­lengers, with Holmes bare­ly ahead and in grave dan­ger of being over­tak­en by both of them. Holmes received 16% sup­port in the sur­vey, while chal­lengers Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davi­son each received 14%.

A major­i­ty of respon­dents, 53%, said they were unde­cid­ed, but the low num­ber for Holmes, a three-term incum­bent, indi­cat­ed he was in big trouble.

Seattle City Attorney poll finding
A visu­al of NPI’s poll find­ing for Seat­tle City Attor­ney, 2021

What hap­pened in the elec­tion: Seat­tle vot­ers end­ed Pete Holmes’ bid for a fourth term by select­ing Thomas-Kennedy and Davi­son as the top two can­di­dates for the posi­tion. Each can­di­date land­ed in the thir­ties in the actu­al elec­tion, vin­di­cat­ing our char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of it being a three-way race. In the ini­tial returns on Elec­tion Night, Davi­son had the top spot, with Holmes in sec­ond and Thomas-Kennedy in third. By Thurs­day after­noon, close to forty-eight hours after Elec­tion Night, Holmes trad­ed places with Thomas-Kennedy, while Davi­son remained in first place. By Fri­day after­noon, Thomas-Kennedy had surged into the top spot, ahead of Davi­son, with Holmes still out of con­tention in third.

Cur­rent results (final results avail­able after August 17th):

Nicole Thomas-KennedyNicole Thomas-Kennedy

71,234 votes

Ann DavisonAnn Davi­son

64,101 votes

Pete HolmesPete Holmes

60,009 votes


Analy­sis: As I wrote last week, vot­ers are known for pun­ish­ing com­pla­cen­cy when least expect­ed to. Pete Holmes was over­whelm­ing­ly reelect­ed four years ago with three-fourths of the vote against chal­lenger Scott Lind­say, but this cycle, he could­n’t even man­age to gar­ner half as much sup­port against two opponents.

Pri­or to the release of our poll find­ing, Holmes’ cam­paign had been in what you might call cruise con­trol mode, hav­ing seem­ing­ly not con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the can­di­date fail­ing to advance to the gen­er­al elec­tion. After the pub­li­ca­tion of our find­ing, Holmes began cam­paign­ing more vig­or­ous­ly, offer­ing cri­tiques of his oppo­nents. But vot­ers dis­sat­is­fied with his per­for­mance backed them any­way, leav­ing him in the same boat Greg Nick­els found him­self in twelve years ago.

City Council, Position #8 (At-Large)

What the poll found: Our research sug­gest­ed that incum­bent Coun­cilmem­ber Tere­sa Mosque­da was on track for reelec­tion against a large field of ten chal­lengers. In the sur­vey, Mosque­da received 26%, with all of her chal­lengers down in the sin­gle dig­its, or at zero. Of the chal­lengers, the poll indi­cat­ed that Kate Mar­tin could have the best chance of end­ing up in the gen­er­al elec­tion along with Mosque­da; Mar­tin received 6%, with no oth­er chal­lenger polling above 2%. A major­i­ty of respon­dents, 55%, said they were undecided.

Seattle City Council #8 poll finding
A visu­al of NPI’s poll find­ing for Seat­tle City Coun­cil Posi­tion #8, 2021

What hap­pened in the elec­tion: Although a huge num­ber of vot­ers pro­fessed them­selves to be unde­cid­ed — in fact, more than in any of the oth­er three races! — most of them even­tu­al­ly decid­ed to back Mosqueda’s reelec­tion.

She cur­rent­ly has 59.36% of the vote, more than any oth­er can­di­date run­ning for city­wide office in Seat­tle this year. How­ev­er, Mosqueda’s oppo­nent in the gen­er­al elec­tion won’t be Kate Mar­tin. In the biggest sur­prise of the Top Two, bridge engi­neer Ken­neth (Ken) Wil­son came out of nowhere to grab the sec­ond place spot, despite hav­ing spent almost no mon­ey and hav­ing been ignored by the mass media. Wil­son cur­rent­ly has 16.21% of the vote, with Mar­tin in third at 11.56%.

Cur­rent results (final results avail­able after August 17th):

Teresa MosquedaTere­sa Mosqueda

112,858 votes

Kenneth WilsonKen­neth Wilson

30,825 votes

Kate MartinKate Mar­tin

21,969 votes

Paul Felipe GlumazPaul Felipe Glumaz

10,214 votes

Alexander WhiteAlexan­der White

2,468 votes

Bobby Lindsey MillerBob­by Lind­sey Miller

2,433 votes

Jesse JamesJesse James

2,049 votes

Jordan Elizabeth FisherJor­dan Eliz­a­beth Fisher

1,805 votes

George FreemanGeorge Free­man

1,575 votes

Alex TsimermanAlex Tsimer­man

960 votes

Brian FaheyBri­an Fahey

884 votes


Analy­sis: This was the only race in which our poll did not detect that one of the top two fin­ish­ers was even in con­tention. The sur­vey antic­i­pat­ed Mosque­da might fin­ish in first place (and she has), but it did­n’t reg­is­ter any sig­nif­i­cant degree of sup­port for Ken­neth Wil­son. We think there’s a sim­ple rea­son for that: Ken­neth Wilson’s remark­able surge occurred after the poll had field­ed in mid-July.

Wil­son prob­a­bly ben­e­fit­ed from the neg­a­tive per­cep­tions that a lot of peo­ple in Seat­tle anec­do­tal­ly seem to have of activist Kate Mar­tin, whose “Park My Viaduct” bal­lot mea­sure pro­pos­al fell utter­ly flat with vot­ers four years ago.

Although Mar­tin is out­per­form­ing her stand­ing in the sur­vey, Wil­son was able to eclipse her by offer­ing vot­ers who want­ed an alter­na­tive to Tere­sa Mosque­da a can­di­date they could feel good about sup­port­ing. Mar­tin, metaphor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, has spent years burn­ing bridges with peo­ple across Seat­tle, while Wil­son, lit­er­al­ly speak­ing, has spent years help­ing to get bridges built in and beyond the city.

As men­tioned, Wil­son was in a posi­tion to cap­i­tal­ize on vot­ers’ inter­est in func­tion­ing bridges because he is a bridge engi­neer. He ran on get­ting the high West Seat­tle Bridge reopened to at least one lane of traf­fic in each direc­tion, empha­siz­ing it on his web­site and in his voter’s pam­phlet state­ment. That mes­sage clear­ly res­onat­ed with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of voters.

Aside from The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate and Seat­tle Times colum­nist Dan­ny West­neat, who took the time to talk to the can­di­date, Wilson’s surge has not got­ten much atten­tion from the press. But per­haps that will soon change. And maybe now that Wil­son has got­ten through the elim­i­na­tion round, he’ll make fundrais­ing a pri­or­i­ty so he can afford to make his cam­paign more vis­i­ble to voters.

City Council Position #9 (At-Large)

What the poll found: In the con­test for the city’s oth­er at-large coun­cil posi­tion, which is an open seat this year, our sur­vey found that activist Nikki­ta Oliv­er and small busi­ness own­er Sara Nel­son were the lead­ing can­di­dates. Oliv­er received 26% sup­port in the sur­vey, while Nel­son received 11%. Bri­an­na Thomas, the chief of staff to Lore­na Gon­za­lez, placed third in the sur­vey with 6%.

Half of respon­dents sur­veyed, 50%, said they were undecided.

Seattle City Council #9 poll finding

What hap­pened in the elec­tion: Oliv­er placed first, Nel­son placed sec­ond, and Thomas placed third — the same order as in the poll. Each can­di­date gar­nered more sup­port than in the sur­vey, indi­cat­ing that they all got addi­tion­al sup­port from unde­cid­ed vot­ers. Nel­son did by far the best job of reel­ing in unde­cid­ed vot­ers to her side, surg­ing from just 11% in the sur­vey to 39.49% in the actu­al elec­tion… a huge gain. Oliv­er went from 26% in the sur­vey to 40.16% in the elec­tion, sur­pass­ing Nel­son in late bal­lots (Nel­son held the first place spot on Elec­tion Night). Thomas went from 6% in the sur­vey to 13.42% in the election.

Cur­rent results (final results avail­able after August 17th):

Nikkita OliverNikki­ta Oliver

79,643 votes

Sara NelsonSara Nel­son

78,304 votes

Brianna K ThomasBri­an­na K Thomas

26,617 votes

Corey EichnerCorey Eich­n­er

7,019 votes

Lindsay McHaffieLind­say McHaffie

3,042 votes

Rebecca L WilliamsonRebec­ca L Williamson

1,645 votes

Xtian GuntherXtian Gun­ther

1,403 votes


Analy­sis: Nikki­ta Oliv­er was able to build on their already strong base of sup­port to earn the top spot in the gen­er­al elec­tion, while Sara Nel­son’s cam­paign took off and soared in the days lead­ing up to August 3rd. Com­bined, Oliv­er and Nel­son have about eighty per­cent of the vote over­all. They are less than 1,500 votes apart. This race could be incred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive in the Novem­ber gen­er­al election.

On the morn­ing after Elec­tion Night, one Inter­net com­menter argued to NPI that our sur­vey must have been flawed because it did not pre­dict Nel­son’s strong per­for­mance. At the time, Nel­son was ahead of Oliv­er, and this com­menter the­o­rized that the results did­n’t line up because our sam­ple was unrepresentative.

But as we point­ed out to them, their rea­son­ing did­n’t make any sense. As I explained in the intro­duc­tion to this post, polls can’t pre­dict what will hap­pen, they can only sug­gest what might hap­pen. That is an impor­tant distinction.

If our sam­ple had been unrep­re­sen­ta­tive, then the results of the whole sur­vey would have been off, and we would not be see­ing the cor­re­la­tions we’re see­ing between our find­ings and the unof­fi­cial results so far across the dif­fer­ent races.

As with Ken­neth Wil­son, the plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for why Sara Nel­son is doing so much bet­ter in the actu­al elec­tion than in our poll is because her can­di­da­cy caught fire and res­onat­ed with vot­ers dur­ing the home­stretch. Because our poll was in the field before bal­lots dropped, this was­n’t some­thing it could detect. Nev­er­the­less, it did sug­gest that Oliv­er might come in first and Nel­son sec­ond, which is what hap­pened, despite the large num­ber of unde­cid­ed voters.

Final thoughts

About three weeks went by in between when our sur­vey returned from the field and when the first results from the tab­u­la­tion of bal­lots cast by vot­ers became avail­able. Although plu­ral­i­ties and majori­ties of respon­dents to our sur­vey said they were not sure who they were vot­ing for, it was evi­dent that some can­di­dates were in a much stronger posi­tion head­ing into the vot­ing than others.

On August 3rd, we got our first results. While that fresh data was nice to have, it was also some­what incom­plete. KCE data showed that most of the bal­lots cast in Seat­tle were returned in the final hours of the elec­tion, with a major­i­ty of on-time bal­lots hav­ing been sent back in the final twen­ty-four hours. That meant there was a pos­si­bil­i­ty of seri­ous move­ment and some lead changes in the late ballots.

And indeed, that’s what we saw. We now have more com­plete results to pore over, and that data shows that our sur­vey suc­ceed­ed in yield­ing cred­i­ble insights about Seat­tle’s elec­toral land­scape ahead of the Top Two election.

This suc­cess builds on our track record at the statewide level.

In last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, we were the only orga­ni­za­tion to pub­licly poll up and down the entire statewide bal­lot, ask­ing vot­ers who they were sup­port­ing in each of the can­di­date elec­tions for statewide exec­u­tive posi­tions and State Supreme Court, as well as for Ref­er­en­dum 90, con­cern­ing sex ed. In each con­test, the results lined up with what our poll found, as explained here.

Pri­or to that, our polling for Unit­ed States Sen­ate in 2018 had been on the mon­ey, antic­i­pat­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent Maria Cantwell’s even­tu­al mar­gin of vic­to­ry over Repub­li­can chal­lenger Susan Hutchi­son months in advance.

We are delight­ed to have been able to work with Change Research on this project. Change, which just cel­e­brat­ed its fourth anniver­sary, is a firm that shares our val­ues and com­mit­ment to con­duct­ing rig­or­ous research.

Change did a great job with their mod­el­ing of the elec­torate for this project, ensur­ing that the neu­tral ques­tions that our team at NPI had writ­ten would be asked of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple. Those are the two most impor­tant keys to good polling, by the way: neu­tral ques­tions asked of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sample.

Survey methodology

  • Change Research, a Pub­lic Ben­e­fit Cor­po­ra­tion based in Cal­i­for­nia, sur­veyed 617 like­ly August 2021 Top Two elec­tion vot­ers in Seat­tle from Mon­day, July 12th to Thurs­day, July 15th on behalf of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute. All respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online.
  • Change used tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments on Face­book, tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments on Insta­gram, and text mes­sages sent via the echo19 and/or Scale To Win plat­forms to cell phone num­bers list­ed on the vot­er file for indi­vid­u­als who qual­i­fied for the survey’s sam­ple uni­verse, based on their vot­er file data.
  • Regard­less of which of these sources a respon­dent came from, they were direct­ed to a sur­vey host­ed on SurveyMonkey’s web­site. Ads placed on social media tar­get­ed all adults liv­ing in Seat­tle. Those who indi­cat­ed that they were not reg­is­tered to vote were terminated.
  • As the sur­vey field­ed, Change used dynam­ic online sam­pling: adjust­ing ad bud­gets, low­er­ing bud­gets for ads tar­get­ing groups that were over­rep­re­sent­ed and rais­ing bud­gets for ads tar­get­ing groups that were under­rep­re­sent­ed, so that the final sam­ple was rough­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pop­u­la­tion across dif­fer­ent groups.
  • The sur­vey was con­duct­ed in Eng­lish, and has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.3% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

We’ll be back for the general election!

NPI and Change Research will be join­ing forces again this autumn to sur­vey Seat­tle vot­ers in advance of the Novem­ber 2020 gen­er­al elec­tion. We look for­ward to bring­ing you more cred­i­ble insights about what’s hap­pen­ing in the Emer­ald City before vot­ers make their final deci­sions this autumn.

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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