Should Governor Jay Inslee decide against seeking an unprecedented fourth term later this year, Republican Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson would be the two leading candidates to succeed him in a hypothetical field that also included King County Executive Dow Constantine (D) and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz (D), a poll recently conducted for the Northwest Progressive Institute has found.
35% of 874 likely 2024 general election voters interviewed from March 7th-8th for NPI by Public Policy Polling said they’d back Dammeier if the election were being held today, while 21% said they’d pick Ferguson. 7% said Constantine and another 7% said Franz. A total of 30% were not sure, a figure that exceeds the support of each of the Democratic candidates, though not all of them combined.
The results suggest that Ferguson would have the advantage at the outset of a 2024 gubernatorial campaign among the three top Democratic officeholders in the state known to be interested in the job, but also indicates that there could be an opening for either Franz or Constantine to wage a competitive campaign, particularly if one of them decided to forgo running, resulting in just two credible Democrats competing for time, talent, treasure, and votes in the elimination round.
Dammeier’s 35% percentage is pretty much what we thought we’d most likely see. In head-to-head questions in our statewide polling, we usually see declared or hypothetical Republican candidates in the mid to upper thirties.
This range has been fairly steady since the tumultuous 2016 election. Three examples: Susan Hutchison polled at 36% in May of 2018, Donald Trump polled at 37% in October of 2019, and Tiffany Smiley polled at 37% in May of 2021.
Republicans have not won a gubernatorial election in Washington since 1980, and, aside from a long string of victories for Secretary of State that ended last year, have won only a handful of downballot executive contests since 2000. They’ve also been reduced to just two seats in the state’s twelve-member congressional delegation, leaving them with a thin bench, in stark contrast to the Democrats.
Given Washington’s Democratic orientation, most of the action for governor will be on the Democratic side, again assuming Inslee retires. But the Republicans can be counted upon to field somebody, which is why we put together a question that included a hypothetical Republican candidate as well as the three Democratic candidates. Here’s the text of our question and the responses we received:
QUESTION (VERSION A): If the 2024 Top Two election for Governor of Washington State were being held today and the candidates were Democrat Hilary Franz, Republican Bruce Dammeier, Democrat Dow Constantine, and Democrat Bob Ferguson, who would you vote for?
Half the poll sample saw the question with the order of candidates as shown above and half the sample saw the question with the order of candidates shown below. The wording was the same, but the order was inverted to make the question as neutral as possible.
QUESTION (VERSION B): If the 2024 Top Two election for Governor of Washington State were being held today and the candidates were Democrat Bob Ferguson, Democrat Dow Constantine, Republican Bruce Dammeier, and Democrat Hilary Franz, who would you vote for?
- Republican Bruce Dammeier: 35%
- Democrat Bob Ferguson: 21%
- Democrat Hilary Franz: 7%
- Democrat Dow Constantine: 7%
- Not sure: 30%
Our survey of 874 likely 2024 Washington State voters was in the field from Tuesday, March 7th through Wednesday, March 8th, 2023.
The poll utilizes a blended methodology, with automated phone calls to landlines (50%) and online answers from cell phone only respondents (50%).
It was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Northwest Progressive Institute, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3% at the 95% confidence interval.
Most voters in Washington identify either as Democratic or independent, and as you might expect, given a choice of three Democrats for an important office, large numbers were undecided. One in three Democrats (33%) said they were not sure, with 39% backing Ferguson and Franz and Constantine getting 12% each. 42% of independent voters were also not sure. 33% of independents said they’d back Dammeier, while 12% picked Ferguson, 8% Constantine, and 5% Franz.
Republicans easily lined up behind Dammeier — as mentioned, the only Republican option. 84% of them backed Dammeier and 11% were not sure. 3% said they’d support Ferguson; 1% said Franz, and another 1% said Constantine, for a total of 5% of Republican voters willing to back a Democrat. That matches the number of Democrats who said they were for Dammeier — 5%.
Regionally, here’s how the dynamics break down:
- King County: This is the most Democratic part of Washington State — it’s a blue bastion. Constantine did twice as well (14%) in the King County subsample of our poll as in the overall sample, but Ferguson still was the top Democrat in Washington’s most populous county with 20%. Franz, meanwhile, got 10%. The percentage of not sure voters was 38%. Dammeier only got 18% among our King County respondents.
- North Puget Sound: This area usually votes Democratic, especially in top of the ticket contests. Dammeier fared reasonably well in this region. He received 40% support there, while Ferguson received 20%. Constantine received 8% and Franz 7%, similar to their statewide numbers. 25% were not sure, a lower figure than the statewide percentage.
- South Sound: This is Dammeier’s home turf (it includes Pierce County), but a little surprisingly, his number there is merely the same as his statewide percentage — 35%. Ferguson, meanwhile, was very competitive, clocking in at 31%, his best showing in any region of the state. He seems to have serious strength in the South Sound. Constantine and Franz received just 2% each. 30% said that they were not sure, matching the statewide percentage.
- Olympic Peninsula and Southwest Washington: This is swing turf for both parties. Democrats have held onto the 24th Legislative District in recent elections while Republicans have taken the 19th. The Democrats managed to flip the 3rd Congressional District last year in a major victory. Ferguson received 15% in this region, while Constantine and Franz each got 8%. Dammeier received 42%. 27% were not sure.
- Eastern and Central Washington: This is the most Republican part of Washington State by far, and accordingly, a majority of likely voters favor Dammeier. He received 50% support, while Ferguson received 18%. Constantine received 1% and Franz 4%. 27% were not sure.
Notes and caveats about our question and the finding
It’s important to remember this question asked voters about a hypothetical field, one that doesn’t exist now and may never exist. Governor Jay Inslee hasn’t made or announced a decision about running again and none of these four elected officials has launched a campaign. It is possible that some of them won’t run — it’s even possible that none of them will run. We don’t know the future and don’t pretend to, so I won’t offer any predictions. There’s many plausible scenarios.
Our intent with this question was to have fun exploring some of the potential dynamics of a landscape in which Governor Inslee doesn’t seek reelection.
We only included credible potential candidates in our question because it isn’t feasible or worthwhile to ask voters about dozens of possibilities in a survey. There were thirty-six candidates (yes, three dozen!) for Governor in the August 2020 Top Two election and most of them did not receive even 1% of the vote.
Ferguson, Constantine, and Franz have all previously expressed interest in running for governor, are unquestionably qualified for the office, and have demonstrated they can raise the resources needed to compete statewide. Ferguson and Franz have also each won consecutive statewide elections for other positions in the executive department — Attorney General and Commissioner of Public Lands.
Dammeier, meanwhile, is the most credible Republican candidate our team could think of (we wanted a credible Republican to go with the three credible Democrats in the question). He’s in charge of the second largest county in the state and would run a much more serious campaign than a grifter like Loren Culp or Tim Eyman if he chose to enter the race. Pierce County has term limits, so Dammeier cannot run again for Executive next year. He could run for governor, though!
Future polling plans
In our spring seasonal survey, we’ll take another look at the gubernatorial race and bring you a new finding. It is possible by that point that Governor Inslee will have announced his plans, but it’s also possible he won’t have. His most recent two predecessors waited until June and July to officially announce that they had decided to retire. Chris Gregoire’s retirement announcement was made public on June 13th, 2011; Gary Locke announced his retirement on July 21st, 2003.