The 2022 contest for United States Senate in Washington State is tightening a bit, as Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley gains ground for the first time while Democratic incumbent Patty Murray holds steady, the Northwest Progressive Institute’s latest poll of the Washington State electorate indicates.
50% of 700 likely 2022 voters surveyed yesterday and today by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for NPI said they would vote for Murray if the election were being held today, while 41% said they would vote for Smiley. 9% were not sure.
41% is Smiley’s best showing so far this cycle in our polling, as well as her best showing so far in all of the public polling we know of. In two surveys conducted for NPI last year, in May and November of 2021, Smiley got 37% both times.
Murray remains ahead by a spread larger that the margin of error, has a majority of support from this poll’s respondents, and is still favored to win this November. But our data suggests that Smiley is becoming more competitive. Her base of voters has grown and the percentage of voters who aren’t sure has shrunk.
Below, each of our findings is plotted on a chart, showing the trend over the course of the cycle. The spread between the two candidates was sixteen points last May, thirteen points in November, and it’s nine points now.
Here’s the full text of the question we asked, and the answers we received:
QUESTION: If the election for United States Senate were being held today and the candidates were Democrat Patty Murray and Republican Tiffany Smiley, who would you vote for?
- Patty Murray: 50%
- Tiffany Smiley: 41%
- Not sure: 9%
Our survey of 700 likely 2022 Washington State voters was in the field from Thursday, February 17th through today, Friday, February 18th, 2022.
It utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines (50%) and text message answers from cell phone only respondents (50%).
The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute and has a margin of error of +/- 3.7% at the 95% confidence interval.
In related news, Senator Murray’s approval rating has not budged. It was 46% back in November when we last checked, and it is 46% again in this survey. However, the percentage of voters who disapprove has gone up a little:
QUESTION: Do you approve or disapprove of Senator Patty Murray’s job performance?
- Approve: 46%
- Disapprove: 42%
- Not sure: 13%
The percentage of voters identifying as Democratic in our sample has decreased ever so slightly to 38%, while the number identifying as independents has gone up 38%. The percentage identifying as Republican is unchanged (24%). We usually see fluctuations like this between surveys — statistical noise is an inevitable facet of public opinion research — but it’s also possible the Democratic brand has gotten a little weaker since the last time we fielded a statewide poll.
What we’re not seeing, however, is a big surge in affiliation with the Republican Party, which Crosscut’s pollster Stuart Elway suggested was happening. I discussed the problems with Elway’s finding in a lengthy post here last month.
The good news for Murray is that even though slightly greater percentages of voters are expressing a preference for Smiley and disapprove of her job performance, she has not been shedding support over the course of this omicron-laden winter season. Murray remains well positioned for reelection.
Given that it’s been six years since she last appeared on a ballot — terms for U.S. senators are longer than that for any other office in Washington aside from State Supreme Court justice — Murray would benefit from increasing her visibility. NPI contributor Joel Connelly has made the case that Murray prioritize breaking out of the protective cocoon that often envelops veteran United States Senators.
In the last midterm cycle that Murray faced voters in — which was all the way back in 2010 — multiple polls showed Murray trailing Republican challenger Dino Rossi after he got into the race, including polls taken in the springtime. Murray campaigned hard, however, and secured enough of the vote to declare victory on Election Night, dealing Rossi his third consecutive statewide loss.
There is no credible polling and no public polling that we’re aware of that shows Tiffany Smiley close to being even with Murray or ahead of Murray.
Smiley appears to have gained some ground in recent weeks, but this still isn’t a close race — at least not yet. NPI does not publish electoral ratings, but if we did, we’d still consider this contest Safe Democratic as of right now.
Every poll is a snapshot in time, though, and electoral dynamics can change. That can’t be said often enough. Political analysis benefits from such disclosures.
We will check back in on this and other statewide contests after the vernal equinox has arrived and the days are longer and warmer.