Washington State's Capitol Campus in Olympia, from the air
An aerial view of Washington State's Capitol Campus in Olympia, with the distinctive Legislative Building in the center (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

An inde­pen­dent sur­vey pub­lished this morn­ing by long­time poll­ster Stu­art Elway has yield­ed fresh evi­dence that Bri­an Hey­wood and Jim Wal­sh’s slate of harm­ful ini­tia­tives is in seri­ous trou­ble ahead of what’s expect­ed to be a live­ly autumn cam­paign to decide the future of sev­er­al land­mark laws passed by the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-con­trolled Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture since the onset of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic four years ago.

Hey­wood and Walsh are seek­ing to over­turn the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act with Ini­tia­tive 2117, rip away fund­ing from the Edu­ca­tion Lega­cy Trust with Ini­tia­tive 2109, and sab­o­tage the WA Cares sys­tem for long-term care with Ini­tia­tive 2124. 

Walsh, the state Repub­li­can Par­ty Chair, is the spon­sor of all three mea­sures, while Hey­wood, a hedge fund man­ag­er and mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, is their main fun­der. The duo and their oper­a­tives qual­i­fied the mea­sures to the Leg­is­la­ture ear­li­er this year, but the House and Sen­ate declined to pass them into law, so now they’re in vot­ers’ hands.

Elway found each of the three mea­sures to be under fifty per­cent, despite not includ­ing any lan­guage sim­u­lat­ing pos­si­ble fis­cal impact dis­clo­sures in the ini­tial ques­tions for each ini­tia­tive. That’s bad news for Hey­wood and Walsh, and great news for the Defend Wash­ing­ton coali­tion, which the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute is a part of.

Elway’s sur­vey is the first inde­pen­dent pub­lic poll that we know that has looked at these mea­sures. Con­duct­ed for Cas­cade PBS, it field­ed May 13th-16th, 2024. There are 403 reg­is­tered vot­ers in the sam­ple and the poll has a mar­gin of error of +/- 5.0%.

The oppos­ing sides each have their own polling on Ini­tia­tives 2109, 2117, and 2124, which is not in agree­ment. A spokesper­son for Hey­wood and Walsh claimed last month in an appear­ance on a KOMO pro­gram called ARC Seat­tle that each of their mea­sures has sup­port rang­ing from the six­ties to the eight­ies, where­as Defend Wash­ing­ton and NPI’s polling has found that none of the mea­sures is above fifty per­cent.

While sub­jec­tive spon­sors are per­fect­ly capa­ble of car­ry­ing out objec­tive research, many observers view cam­paign polls skep­ti­cal­ly, espe­cial­ly polls paid for and released by can­di­dates, and their skep­ti­cism is often war­rant­ed. Elway’s find­ings aren’t going to set­tle the argu­ment — only the elec­tion results will do that — but they do cor­re­late our oppo­si­tion polling. And that’s despite the fact that Elway opt­ed against doing true bal­lot title tests, pre­fer­ring to write ques­tions based on the sum­maries instead.

Let’s take a look at the ques­tions and respons­es for each mea­sure and how those stack up against the polling Defend Wash­ing­ton recent­ly released, and the num­bers that Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton claims to have. (They keep refus­ing to show their work, so all we unfor­tu­nate­ly have from them are some “yes” toplines — that’s all you’ll see below.) 

Initiative 2109

This is the mea­sure that would repeal the cap­i­tal gains tax on the wealthy that funds the Edu­ca­tion Lega­cy Trust. It would get rid of bil­lions of dol­lars going to child­care, ear­ly learn­ing, and school con­struc­tion, and it would give the likes of Hey­wood a tax break.

Elway asked his respon­dents the fol­low­ing question: 

QUESTION: Ini­tia­tive 2019 [sic — should have read Ini­tia­tive 2109] con­cerns the state’s new cap­i­tal gains tax. If passed, it would repeal an excise tax imposed on the sale or exchange of cer­tain long-term cap­i­tal assets by indi­vid­u­als who have annu­al cap­i­tal gains of over $250,000. As things stand today, how are you inclined to vote?

Below are the respons­es, with a com­par­i­son to the cam­paigns’ polling.

Elway’s find­ings
May 2024

  • Yes: 47%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 34% 
    • Prob­a­bly: 13%
  • No: 36%
    • Prob­a­bly: 15% 
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 20%
  • Not sure: 17%

Defend WA’s find­ings
April 2024

  • Yes: 32%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 19%
    • Prob­a­bly: 11%
  • No: 62%
    • Prob­a­bly: 31%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 39%
  • Not sure: 6%

Let’s Go WA’s num­bers
Unknown dates

We don’t have com­plete toplines from Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton. Spokesper­son Hal­lie Balch claims 50% are in sup­port and an addi­tion­al 34% are “like­ly” to vote yes, for a total of 84% yes. 

Elway also asked a fol­low-up ques­tion which includ­ed more context:

QUESTION: Sup­port­ers of this mea­sure say the cap­i­tal gains tax is a step toward a state income tax and is not nec­es­sary, there is plen­ty of mon­ey in the state bud­get with­out it. Oppo­nents of the mea­sure say that only 4,000 peo­ple paid the Cap­i­tal Gains tax last year, but that pro­vid­ed near­ly $900 mil­lion dol­lars to expand child­care, pro­vide more ear­ly learn­ing, and repair our schools. Giv­en these argu­ments, are you inclined to vote FOR Ini­tia­tive 2019 to REPEAL the Cap­i­tal Gains tax? Or vote AGAINST the ini­tia­tive to KEEP it in place?

ANSWERS:

  • For repeal: 40%
  • Against: 41%
  • Unde­cid­ed: 19%

We can see that sup­port falls and oppo­si­tion ris­es once respon­dents hear that edu­ca­tion will be neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed by pas­sage of Ini­tia­tive 2109. We observe this dynam­ic con­sis­tent­ly in our research, and we’re guess­ing that Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton either does­n’t because they aren’t test­ing it, or they do see it and are con­ceal­ing their findings. 

A 2022 state law passed with NPI’s involve­ment and strong sup­port requires that vot­ers be noti­fied of a fis­cal impact right on the bal­lot. Ini­tia­tive 2109 will be the first mea­sure ever sub­ject­ed to this law. Defend Wash­ing­ton and NPI have been sim­u­lat­ing the effect of the required fis­cal impact dis­clo­sure in our polls. It’s why the oppo­si­tion num­bers shown above are so strong — they reflect the pres­ence of the disclosure.

Elway chose not to sim­u­late the effect of the dis­clo­sure. Instead, he includ­ed the infor­ma­tion about the loss of edu­ca­tion fund­ing in a fol­low-up ques­tion that pre­sent­ed the infor­ma­tion as com­ing from the oppo­si­tion. How­ev­er, in the actu­al elec­tion, that infor­ma­tion will be com­ing from the state, and it will be in the ques­tion vot­ers are asked. 

The oppo­si­tion will empha­size that infor­ma­tion but won’t be in the absurd posi­tion of hav­ing to bring it to the sur­face through cam­paign mate­ri­als and news cov­er­age, as has been the case in the past, when the costs were not dis­closed on the bal­lot itself.

That makes Elway’s find­ing all the more omi­nous for Hey­wood and Walsh.

NPI’s research has found that fis­cal impact dis­clo­sures are wild­ly pop­u­lar. 82% of vot­ers sup­port them. Even Repub­li­can vot­ers like them and val­ue the trans­paren­cy they offer.

Initiative 2117

This is the mea­sure that would repeal the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, which is rais­ing resources to tack­le the cli­mate cri­sis in Wash­ing­ton State by putting a price on pol­lu­tion. The mea­sure also for­bids the re-impo­si­tion of a sim­i­lar pol­lu­tion pric­ing law.

Elway asked his respon­dents the fol­low­ing question: 

QUESTION: Ini­tia­tive 2117 would pro­hib­it state agen­cies from impos­ing any type of car­bon tax cred­it trad­ing, includ­ing “cap and trade” or “cap and tax” pro­grams, regard­less of whether the result­ing increased costs are imposed on fuel recip­i­ents or fuel sup­pli­ers. It would repeal sec­tions of the 2021 Wash­ing­ton Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act, includ­ing repeal­ing the “cap and invest” pro­gram to reduce green­house gas emis­sions by spe­cif­ic enti­ties. As things stand today, how are you inclined to vote?

Below are the respons­es, with a com­par­i­son to the cam­paigns’ polling.

Elway’s find­ings
May 2024

  • Yes: 41%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 29%
    • Prob­a­bly: 12%
  • No: 31%
    • Prob­a­bly: 15% 
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 16%
  • Not sure: 28%

Defend WA’s find­ings
April 2024

  • Yes: 37%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 23%
    • Prob­a­bly: 13%
  • No: 57%
    • Prob­a­bly: 22%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 34%
  • Not sure: 6%

Let’s Go WA’s num­bers
Unknown dates

We don’t have com­plete toplines from Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton. Spokesper­son Hal­lie Balch claims 50% are in sup­port and an addi­tion­al 28% are “like­ly” to vote yes, for a total of 78% yes.

Elway also asked a fol­low-up ques­tion which includ­ed more context:

QUESTION: Sup­port­ers of the ini­tia­tive say the state’s cap and trade pro­gram is respon­si­ble for a gas price increase of up to 50 cents per gal­lon and does noth­ing to reduce car­bon emis­sions. Oppo­nents say the pro­gram has capped emis­sions from major pol­lu­tion sources and raised over $2 bil­lion dol­lars in its first year for pro­grams to fund cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion efforts and clean ener­gy pro­grams. Giv­en these argu­ments, are you inclined to vote FOR Ini­tia­tive 2117 to repeal the Cap and-Trade pro­gram? Or vote AGAINST it to keep the Cap-and-Trade pro­gram in place?

ANSWERS:

  • For repeal: 43%
  • Against: 34%
  • Unde­cid­ed: 23%

As with I‑2109, no fis­cal impact dis­clo­sure was tested.

Cross­cut’s Don­na Gor­don Blank­in­ship focused on the yes num­bers being high­er than the no num­bers in her report on the poll. But what is more sig­nif­i­cant is that the yes camp is under fifty at this junc­ture. Fifty per­cent is what many data hounds, our team includ­ed, refer to as the mag­ic num­ber. If you’re at or above fifty, you’re at the thresh­old of a major­i­ty. Here, we can see that I‑2117 is nowhere near the thresh­old of a majority.

I‑2117 starts at 41% and inch­es up to 43% after argu­ments are pre­sent­ed, with oppo­si­tion also ris­ing by a near equiv­a­lent amount, from 31% to 34%. 

That isn’t a good place for a yes cam­paign to be posi­tioned pri­or to a fight with a well-fund­ed oppo­si­tion cam­paign, because yes cam­paigns typ­i­cal­ly lose sup­port dur­ing the course of a bal­lot mea­sure bat­tle. When in doubt, vote no, as the adage goes. This is why yes cam­paigns like to have a nice cush­ion of sup­port to begin with. The ide­al range for a yes cam­paign at the start­ing gate is between 60% and 70%. 

I‑2117 and its brethren don’t have that.

Con­trast Elway’s find­ings with the num­bers Hal­lie gave KOMO. 

In her appear­ance, she claimed “about fifty per­cent of the peo­ple polled” said they were in favor and 28% “on top of that amount” are like­ly to vote yes. 

She offered sim­i­lar fig­ures for I‑2109, the mea­sure just dis­cussed above. 

I can’t see how those num­bers could have been obtained from test­ing either the con­cise descrip­tion or the sum­ma­ry unless the sam­ple was hor­rif­i­cal­ly skewed. More like­ly, they got those favor­able num­bers by ask­ing a loaded ques­tion. Since they won’t show their work, we can’t take their data seri­ous­ly. Their num­bers might as well be made up.

Elway did­n’t test the con­cise descrip­tion, but his test of the I‑2117 sum­ma­ry was done in good faith, mean­ing he was actu­al­ly try­ing to mea­sure pub­lic opin­ion as opposed to gen­er­at­ing favor­able num­bers for a posi­tion that he holds. 

“I used the bal­lot sum­maries and made minor changes, strik­ing extra­ne­ous words (like the RCW Ref­er­ence) to make the text eas­i­er to under­stand in a phone sur­vey,” Elway told me when we cor­re­spond­ed about the ques­tion­naire design and the results today via email. “A com­mon prac­tice. None of the tweaks would be expect­ed to make a mate­r­i­al dif­fer­ence in response, as evi­denced by the minor dif­fer­ences in response between the orig­i­nal ques­tion and the respons­es after pro and con state­ments were presented.”

The words “Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act”, inter­est­ing­ly enough, don’t appear in the con­cise descrip­tion, so vot­ers will not see them on the bal­lot. This is what they will see:

Ini­tia­tive Mea­sure No. 2117 con­cerns car­bon tax cred­it trading.

This mea­sure would pro­hib­it state agen­cies from impos­ing any type of car­bon tax cred­it trad­ing, and repeal leg­is­la­tion estab­lish­ing a cap and invest pro­gram to reduce green­house gas emissions.

[Fis­cal impact dis­clo­sure to be determined] 

Should this mea­sure be enact­ed into law?

“Car­bon tax cred­it trad­ing” appears twice along with the phase “cap and invest pro­gram” and “green­house gas emis­sions.” The con­cise descrip­tion does­n’t refer to the cost of fuel or tax­es on gaso­line, which is what Hey­wood and Walsh like to talk about. 

Initiative 2124

This is the mea­sure that would sab­o­tage the Wash­ing­ton Cares Fund, known as WA Cares for short. WA Cares is a pio­neer­ing pub­lic ser­vice intend­ed to ensure that Wash­ing­to­ni­ans have a means of pay­ing for long-term care when they need it. I‑2124 would allow peo­ple to with­draw from pay­ing into the sys­tem, which could cause its collapse. 

Elway asked his respon­dents the fol­low­ing question: 

QUESTION: Ini­tia­tive 2124 con­cerns the state’s new long-term care insur­ance pro­gram. It would pro­vide that employ­ees and self-employed peo­ple must elect to keep cov­er­age and could opt-out any time. It would also repeal a law gov­ern­ing an exemp­tion for employ­ees. As things stand today, how are you inclined to vote on Ini­tia­tive 2124?

Below are the respons­es, with a com­par­i­son to the cam­paigns’ polling.

Elway’s find­ings
May 2024

  • Yes: 47%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 30%
    • Prob­a­bly: 17%
  • No: 25%
    • Prob­a­bly: 9%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 16%
  • Not sure: 28%

Defend WA’s find­ings
April 2024

  • Yes: 41%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 21%
    • Prob­a­bly: 20%
  • No: 49%
    • Prob­a­bly: 22%
    • Def­i­nite­ly: 24%
  • Not sure: 10%

Let’s Go WA’s num­bers
Unknown dates

We don’t have com­plete toplines from Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton. Spokesper­son Hal­lie Balch claims “two in every three” vot­ers are sup­port­ive. Numer­i­cal­ly, that would be around 66%. 

Elway also asked a fol­low-up ques­tion which includ­ed more context:

QUESTION: Ini­tia­tive sup­port­ers say the state’s new long-term care pro­gram is seri­ous­ly flawed and should not be manda­to­ry. Ini­tia­tive oppo­nents say mak­ing the pro­gram option­al would seri­ous­ly decrease state fund­ing for long-term care. Giv­en these argu­ments, are you inclined to vote FOR Ini­tia­tive 2124 to make the pro­gram OPTIONAL? Or AGAINST the ini­tia­tive to KEEP the pro­gram as is?

ANSWERS:

  • For / Option­al: 45%
  • Against / Keep as is: 27%
  • Unde­cid­ed: 27%

As with the oth­er two mea­sures, the pro and con argu­ments don’t move the nee­dle much. Total sup­port stays under fifty per­cent and plen­ty of peo­ple are still undecided. 

“The big take­away is that wide vari­a­tion in response between dif­fer­ent surveys/wording indi­cates unset­tled pub­lic opin­ion,” Elway not­ed in our cor­re­spon­dence. “Polled support/opposition for ini­tia­tives more often than not changes over the course of the cam­paign as vot­ers tune in and learn more about the choice before them.”

That’s true. And what we’ve also seen is that it’s gen­er­al­ly hard­er for a yes cam­paign to grow its sup­port than it is for a no cam­paign to build oppo­si­tion. It’s not unheard of for a yes cam­paign to go up instead of down, but it’s difficult. 

We don’t know the future and can’t pre­dict how the elec­tion will turn out. But we can draw this con­clu­sion: there’s no evi­dence to cor­rob­o­rate the sky-high sup­port that Let’s Go Wash­ing­ton claims to have from Wash­ing­ton vot­ers for their three mea­sures. Even though he did­n’t sim­u­late fis­cal impacts in the bal­lot lan­guage, Elway’s find­ings are still much clos­er to Defend Wash­ing­ton’s find­ings than Let’s Go Washington’s. 

Elway’s other findings

Elway also asked respon­dents about their pref­er­ences for Pres­i­dent, Gov­er­nor, and U.S. Sen­ate — the mar­quee can­di­date elec­tions on the 2024 ballot. 

For Pres­i­dent, Elway found a plu­ral­i­ty lead for Joe Biden:

  • Joe Biden (D): 42%
  • Don­ald Trump (R): 34%
  • Oth­er: 6%
  • Unde­cid­ed: 15%
  • Won’t vote: 3%

This find­ing dif­fers sub­stan­tial­ly from ours, espe­cial­ly with respect to Biden’s per­for­mance. Our May 2024 sur­vey, which field­ed around the same time, found Biden at 55% and Trump at 39%. We did not present vot­ers with addi­tion­al choic­es in our ques­tion, like inde­pen­dent Robert F. Kennedy or minor par­ty can­di­dates Cor­nel West and Jill Stein. How­ev­er, they had the choice of say­ing they were not sure.

For Gov­er­nor, Elway found a five-point lead for Bob Fer­gu­son in a Top Two field:

Can­di­dateDecid­edCon­sid­er­ingTotal*
Bob Fer­gu­son (D)22%12%33%
Dave Reichert (R)20%7%28%
Mark Mul­let (D)6%4%9%
Semi Bird (R)5%3%8%
Some­one else0%3%3%
Unde­cid­ed / Not applicable47%47%
*Total may not sum due to round­ing and mul­ti­ple responses

These num­bers don’t dif­fer that much from what we found in our May survey.

Mark Mul­let did bet­ter in Elway’s sur­vey than ours but is still in the sin­gle dig­its here. Semi Bird fared slight­ly worse. Dave Reichert was about the same, and Bob Fer­gu­son got a smidgeon less sup­port. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly more vot­ers were unde­cid­ed in Elway’s sur­vey than ours, a dynam­ic we also saw in every oth­er find­ing from this poll. 

For U.S. Sen­ate, Elway found a nine-point lead for Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell:

  • Maria Cantwell (D): 39%
  • Raul Gar­cia (R): 30%
  • Some­one else: 1%
  • Unde­cid­ed: 30% 

Sen­a­tor Cantwell has had major­i­ty sup­port in every sur­vey we’ve field­ed this cycle. Here, she isn’t even crack­ing forty per­cent. If you ask me, thir­ty per­cent is an awful­ly high per­cent­age of unde­cid­ed vot­ers for a par­ti­san, top of the tick­et, head-to-head poll find­ing that includes a well-known incum­bent as one of the answer choices. 

It’s impor­tant to note, though, that this was a sur­vey of reg­is­tered vot­ers. In our sur­veys of the elec­torate, we poll a dif­fer­ent uni­verse… like­ly vot­ers. We also have a greater per­cent­age of sur­vey tak­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing online as opposed to over the phone. 

Elway’s sam­ple breaks down as 36% Demo­c­ra­t­ic, 25% Repub­li­can, and 39% inde­pen­dent. The per­cent­age of respon­dents iden­ti­fy­ing as Demo­c­ra­t­ic in this sam­ple is too low for my lik­ing. There should be a plu­ral­i­ty of Democ­rats to prop­er­ly reflect the state’s elec­toral pro­file, rather than a plu­ral­i­ty of inde­pen­dents. Wash­ing­ton is a pret­ty Demo­c­ra­t­ic state — its gov­er­nor and U.S. Sen­a­tors are Democ­rats, along with eight of its ten U.S. House mem­bers and all nine of its statewide exec­u­tive elect­ed offi­cials. And it has been vot­ing con­tin­u­ous­ly for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic tick­et for Pres­i­dent since the 1980s. 

Weird­ly, Elway’s par­ti­san iden­ti­fi­ca­tion ques­tion asks respon­dents how they’d reg­is­ter to vote if Wash­ing­ton had reg­is­tra­tion by par­ty, which it nev­er has had, rather than sim­ply ask­ing how peo­ple iden­ti­fy, which is how all of our poll­sters do it. 

Espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing who’s in the sam­ple, I’m of the opin­ion that pro­gres­sive strate­gists, Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­sul­tants, and left-lean­ing vot­ers should find Elway’s results encour­ag­ing. They don’t show any Repub­li­can can­di­dates ahead, and they don’t show any of Hey­wood and Wal­sh’s slate of harm­ful ini­tia­tives above fifty percent.

In a few weeks we will hope­ful­ly get more inde­pen­dent polling, cour­tesy of The Seat­tle Times and KING5’s part­ner­ship with Sur­veyUSA. That will be very nice to have. 

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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