A majority of likely 2022 voters in Washington State favor continued Democratic control of the Legislature following the looming midterms, up from a plurality in February, a statewide survey conducted for NPI last week has found.
51% of 1,039 likely voters said they preferred a Democratic-run State House and Senate Senate, while 42% said they’d rather have divided government with Republicans in control of the Legislature. 7% said they were not sure.
In a previous statewide poll conducted for NPI in February, 49% said they preferred Democratic control of the Legislature, while 44% said they preferred Republican control. This new finding — a four-point shift in Democrats’ favor — along with our findings regarding the U.S. Senate race and the congressional generic ballot suggests that enthusiasm is building for Democrats in Washington State, despite Republican claims that 2022 is going to be a great year for them.
Spend any amount of time listening to Republican Party officials, like top House Republican J.T. Wilcox or top Senate Republican John Braun, and it’s easy to see that they are bullish — well, at least publicly — about their prospects this autumn.
J.T. Wilcox, for example, occasionally tweets photos from candidate kickoffs and brags about how Democrats failed to recruit anyone to run in Republican districts like the 15th, while conveniently failing to mention his caucus is not fielding anyone in Democratic districts like the 33rd or the 43rd this year.
Republicans contend that Washingtonians are fed up with one party rule in Washington, and eager for a change in Olympia. They feel that angst on cost of living and public safety is something they can exploit. They’ve also argued that Governor Inslee has abused his power to the state’s detriment and that voters are hungry — no, make that desperate — for a Republican check on his authority.
Our research suggests otherwise.
We asked a neutral question of a representative sample and most respondents said they’d rather have a Democratic House and Senate than a Republican one.
Here’s the exact text of that question and the answers we received:
QUESTION: Who do you want to see in control of the Washington State House and the Washington State Senate in Olympia after the next election: the Democratic Party or the Republican Party?
- Democratic Party: 51% (+2% since February)
- Republican Party: 42% (-2% since February)
- Not sure: 7%
Our survey of 1,039 likely 2022 Washington State voters was in the field from Wednesday, June 1st through Thursday, June 2nd, 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 +/- 3.0% at the 95% confidence interval.
Any Republicans reading this who are smart enough to refrain from dismissing our research simply because it doesn’t support their narratives might be wondering, how on earth can voters in Washington State be gravitating to the Democrats right now!? After all, the conventional wisdom is that the party that holds the White House usually takes a bath in the midterms. And, to Republicans’ dismay, Democrats have had a statehouse trifecta in Washington State for five years.
But that trifecta has been getting results.
After flipping the Senate with Manka Dhingra in 2017, Democrats went on to pass many consequential new laws. In the last half-decade, Democrats have levied a capital gains tax on the wealthy to fund education and childcare, made it easier to vote and register to vote with prepaid postage and automatic voter registration, strengthened gun safety by banning high capacity magazines, bump stocks, and ghost guns, provided for comprehensive sexual health education across the state, as well as enact the most climate and transit friendly transportation package in modern history: Move Ahead Washington.
Republicans opposed these priorities — often bitterly — but our research and research by other organizations have consistently found that the policies the Legislature has adopted are popular with voters. Voters sent Democrats to Olympia to get results, and they have delivered, session after session.
What would happen in 2023–2024 if the Legislature had Republican majorities instead — or even a single chamber controlled by the Republican Party?
In a word: gridlock.
The last time Republicans had a Senate majority, they turned the chamber into a graveyard of progress. They regularly ran out the clock and forced the Legislature into special session to increase their leverage in budget negotiations.
Let’s run through a sampling of current pressing issues and contemplate what a Republican-controlled Legislature would mean for each.
Budgets and revenue
A Republican Legislature would attempt to cut taxes for the wealthy while using austerity measures to try to force the defunding of Washington’s already underfunded essential public services. Governor Jay Inslee would be able to use his line item veto power to delete some bad budget provisions, but he wouldn’t be able to create or increase appropriations that don’t exist.
Any possibility of further improvements to Washington’s tax code to make it fairer and less regressive would evaporate for the duration of Republican control.
In today’s Republican Party, there is no such thing as a Jennifer Dunn Republican anymore. Even Dunn’s son, Reagan Dunn, has been voting against reproductive rights lately. To our knowledge, there isn’t a single pro-reproductive rights Republican left in either the House or Senate Republican caucuses. They all believe that the right to terminate a pregnancy should be taken away.
A Republican Legislature could be expected to send Governor Inslee multiple bills to weaken or restrict access to abortion care, even though J.T. Wilcox and John Braun insist that is not a priority issue for their caucuses.
Republicans would try to divert funding from underfunded public schools to privately run schools if they had control of the Legislature. They’d also likely attempt to engage in union-busting schemes to go after political foes like the Washington Education Association and AFT Washington, which represent educators and which stand in the way of their privatization dreams.
Republicans have uniformly opposed most bills to protect Washingtonians from the scourge of gun violence. If Republicans gain control of the Legislature, there would be no possibility of passing a ban on military-style assault weapons in the 2023 session. A Republican Legislature could be expected to try to roll back the already passed ban on high-capacity magazines and rescind voter approved measures like I‑1639, which was resoundingly adopted in 2018.
Many Republicans believe that the climate crisis is a hoax, and are unconcerned about climate damage. A Republican Legislature would try to undermine the state’s new cap and invest system as well as blocking any proposals to accelerate a transition to a just and responsible clean energy future. A Republican Legislature would also be very deferential to lobbyists for major polluters.
Further changes to the law needed to better protect Washington from threats like drought, wildfires, and extreme weather would not get made. This would prevent Washington from being a state that leads on climate justice.
Washington’s system of voting at home would come under assault in a Republican Legislature, and debunked conspiracy theories would have a bigger platform from which to spread. Many Republicans have introduced or voiced support for bills aimed at ending universal vote at home and instituting discriminatory schemes such as voter ID. Their proposals wouldn’t get past Governor Inslee’s veto pen, but they would consume valuable public resources nevertheless.
Republicans would try to undo the work previously done by the Legislature to combat racism and corruption in our criminal justice system. They would double down on mass incarceration and schemes like three strikes. That would put more Washingtonians at risk of becoming victims of police misconduct and police brutality. There would be no possibility of further changes to the law to make Washington a safer place for communities of color to thrive.
Without control of the governor’s mansion, Republicans would not be able to get most of the extremely bad right wing policies they want enacted into law.
But they would be able to stymie progress on pretty much every issue. With control over the Legislature’s committees, they’d decide what bills get heard and which ones didn’t. They’d be writing the state’s biennial and supplemental budgets, and they’d decide which agencies’ decision packages were worthy of being acted on. They would have a lot of power they don’t currently have.
At least right now, our polling indicates that a majority of voters in Washington would rather stick with proven Democratic governance than experiment anew with divided government… an experiment that would assuredly lead to dysfunction and prevent the state from becoming more socially and economically inclusive.