Seattle City Council #9 poll finding, October 2021
A visual of NPI's general election poll finding for Seattle City Council Position #9, 2021

Eight years ago, vot­ers in Seat­tle decid­ed to amend the city’s plan of gov­ern­ment to pro­vide for a most­ly-dis­trict based City Coun­cil instead of one with nine at-large seats. Since 2015, the Coun­cil has con­sist­ed of sev­en dis­trict-based seats and two at-large seats, with one of the two seats being held by M. Lore­na González.

González opt­ed to run for may­or this year instead of seek­ing anoth­er term on the Coun­cil, so, for the first time since the Coun­cil shift­ed to a hybrid archi­tec­ture, vot­ers will be choos­ing a new coun­cilmem­ber to serve in Posi­tion #9.

The final­ists vot­ers select­ed for the job in the sum­mer are Sara Nel­son, a small busi­ness own­er who co-owns Fre­mont Brew­ing, and Nikki­ta Oliv­er, a lawyer, author, and activist who has sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence build­ing nonprofits.

Both Nel­son and Oliv­er have pre­vi­ous­ly run for office in Seat­tle before, and both have come up short: Nel­son for Coun­cil and Oliv­er for Mayor.

This year, though, one of them is going to be head­ed to Seat­tle City Hall as one of the Emer­ald City’s newest elect­ed offi­cials. But we like­ly won’t know which one until sev­er­al days after Elec­tion Day. That’s because the con­test between Nel­son and Oliv­er is the clos­est of Seat­tle’s four city­wide races this year.

Just four per­cent­age points cur­rent­ly sep­a­rate Nel­son and Oliv­er from each oth­er in our Octo­ber 2021 gen­er­al elec­tion sur­vey of Emer­ald City vot­ers — a dif­fer­ence that is almost equal to the pol­l’s 4.1% mod­eled mar­gin of error.

41% of 617 like­ly 2021 vot­ers in Seat­tle said last week that they were vot­ing for Nel­son for Coun­cil Posi­tion #9, while 37% said they were vot­ing for Oliv­er. 21% said they were not sure and 2% said they would not cast a vote.

The ten­u­ous Nel­son lead mir­rors the dynam­ic we saw on Elec­tion Night back in August, when Nel­son was in first place. How­ev­er, Nel­son sub­se­quent­ly gave up that lead and Oliv­er climbed into first place thanks to a surge of sup­port in the late bal­lots, a posi­tion they held onto through cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Nel­son end­ed up with 39.47% of the vote in August, while Oliv­er fin­ished with 40.18%.

Seattle City Council #9 poll finding, October 2021
A visu­al of NPI’s gen­er­al elec­tion poll find­ing for Seat­tle City Coun­cil Posi­tion #9, 2021

Our gen­er­al elec­tion poll, which was con­duct­ed for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute by Change Research, has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.1% at the 95% con­fi­dence inter­val. All 617 respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online. The poll was in the field from Tues­day, Octo­ber 12th, 2021 through Fri­day, Octo­ber 15th, 2021.

Fol­low this link if you’re inter­est­ed in a detailed primer on the sur­vey’s method­ol­o­gy along with infor­ma­tion about who took the poll. 

Here are the exact ques­tions that we asked, and the respons­es that we received:

QUESTION: The can­di­dates for City Coun­cil Posi­tion #9 this year are list­ed below in the order that they will appear on the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. Who are you vot­ing for?

[See list as it was shown to respon­dents]


  • Sara Nel­son: 39%
  • Nikki­ta Oliv­er: 35%
  • Not sure: 26%

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION ASKED OF UNDECIDED VOTERS ONLY: If you had to choose, who would you vote for?


  • [Still] Not sure: 82%
  • Nikki­ta Oliv­er: 7%
  • Sara Nel­son: 3%
  • Would not vote: 2%


  • Sara Nel­son: 41%
  • Nikki­ta Oliv­er: 37%
  • Not sure: 21%
  • Would not vote: 2%

In our July 2021 sur­vey of the Seat­tle elec­torate, Oliv­er was the best per­form­ing can­di­date, a tes­ta­ment to their orga­niz­ing prowess and ear­ly com­mu­ni­ty out­reach, with 26% sup­port. Nel­son received less than half that in the poll (11%), but prompt­ly expe­ri­enced a surge in sup­port as vot­ing got underway.

On Elec­tion Night, thanks to robust back­ing from ear­ly vot­ers, Nel­son jumped out to a first place lead. But it did­n’t last. As men­tioned, Oliv­er over­took Nel­son in the late bal­lots, end­ing up in first place just as our research had indi­cat­ed they might.

Could that same sce­nario play out again next month?

Our team thinks it very well might. Unlike in the may­oral or city attor­ney races, where the lead­ing can­di­dates have dou­ble dig­it leads, Nel­son’s lead is pret­ty small. That’s the kind of lead that can be over­come in late ballots.

Cru­cial­ly, Oliv­er has sup­port that nei­ther Lore­na González nor Nicole Thomas-Kennedy have in those oth­er races. Oliv­er leads Nel­son (41% to 34%) among vot­ers of col­or, unlike Gon­za­lez or Thomas-Kennedy, and also has an advan­tage with vot­ers who iden­ti­fy as female (40% to Nel­son’s 35%).

Oliv­er is also ahead with two age brack­ets instead of just one.

They have the sup­port of a slight plu­ral­i­ty of vot­ers ages thir­ty-five to fifty (40% to Nel­son’s 37%) in addi­tion to a huge lead among young vot­ers between the ages of eigh­teen and thir­ty-four (55% to Nel­son’s 25%).

That base of sup­port will be vital in the home stretch, keep­ing Oliv­er competitive.

Nel­son’s strongest sup­port comes from old­er vot­ers and vot­ers who iden­ti­fy as male. 50% of vot­ers ages six­ty-five and up are back­ing her, while 25% sup­port Oliv­er. Vot­ers between the ages of fifty and six­ty-four also pre­fer Nel­son: 46% of them say they’re vot­ing for her ver­sus 32% for Oliver.

If Nel­son can expand her lead between now and Novem­ber 2nd, she might be able to hold off Oliv­er instead of falling to sec­ond place in the late ballots.

Accord­ing to our geo­graph­ic crosstabs, there are sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of unde­cid­ed vot­ers in two coun­cil dis­tricts: Dis­trict #1 (which encom­pass­es West Seat­tle) and Dis­trict #7 (which includes the finan­cial dis­trict, Queen Anne, Mag­no­lia, and near­by neigh­bor­hoods). 34% of vot­ers in each “like­ly” coun­cil dis­trict are not sure who they are vot­ing for, fig­ures that were twice as high as in any oth­er district.

Whichev­er can­di­date can most effec­tive­ly appeal to the vot­ers in West Seat­tle, down­town, Queen Anne, and Mag­no­lia in these last two weeks may wind up with the edge when all of the bal­lots have been counted.

Oliv­er’s strongest dis­trict is #2 (which encom­pass­es the Rainier Val­ley and adja­cent neigh­bor­hoods, like Bea­con Hill), while Nel­son’s strongest dis­trict is #5 (the north­ern­most dis­trict, which includes neigh­bor­hoods adjoin­ing Shoreline.)

Oliv­er has 65% sup­port in “like­ly” coun­cil dis­trict #2 and Nel­son has 49% sup­port in “like­ly” coun­cil dis­trict #5. (Note that our geo­graph­ic seg­men­ta­tion is based on zip code, not respon­dents’ spe­cif­ic address­es, which is why these crosstabs are char­ac­ter­ized as “like­ly” coun­cil districts.)

Both Nel­son and Oliv­er have proven that they can con­nect with vot­ers. We’ll be fas­ci­nat­ed to see who vot­ers pick to rep­re­sent them on the Coun­cil next month. The race may or may not end up in recount ter­ri­to­ry, but regard­less of whether it does or not, it looks like it will be the clos­est of the four city­wide races.

NPI is not aligned with either Nel­son or Oliv­er and does not have an endorse­ment for Seat­tle City Coun­cil Posi­tion #9, or any involve­ment in an inde­pen­dent expen­di­ture sup­port­ing or oppos­ing either candidate.

Vot­ing in the Novem­ber 2021 gen­er­al will end on Novem­ber 2nd. Bal­lots must car­ry a 11/02/2021 post­mark or be in a drop­box by 8 PM to count.

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.

Adjacent posts

One reply on “A close race for Seattle City Council #9: Sara Nelson leads Nikkita Oliver by just four points”

Comments are closed.