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Voter turnout is up — particularly in D3’s wealthier neighborhoods — What will that mean for Sawant and Orion in November?

In the “election surprises” category, this curious nugget of information wins first prize: in Broadmoor, the gated golf club community near Madison Park, five people voted for District 3 incumbent and Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant. Over 400 people in Broadmoor turned in ballots (mostly supporting third-place finisher Pat Murakami) this year. An unusually high number for the precinct.

Broadmoor is not alone. The uptick in voter turnout reflects a city- and D3-wide trend. Particularly higher-income homeowners turned out in larger numbers compared to 2015.

“The most conservative voters were more motivated for this election than they’ve been in quite some time in Seattle,” said local political consultant Crystal Fincher.

But, she added, “we’re seeing an overall energized electorate, particularly in Seattle. That’s a really, really big deal.” Fincher partly credits the city’s Democracy Voucher program.

According to local consultant Ben Anderstone, Trump and KOMO’s controversial ‘Seattle Is Dying’ documentary have something to do with it as well.

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Or at least the 2016 Presidential Election, which has galvanized voters, as has “the conversation around homelessness and the efficacy of the city providing social services,” Anderstone said.

“The most motivated voters right now tend to be voters who are skeptical about the direction of the city, who feel that the city has been perhaps either too permissive or too spendy when it comes to the homelessness crisis. That’s [also] reflected in polling which suggests higher income home-owning voters are especially likely to be dissatisfied with the direction of the city.”

PACs like Moms for Seattle and others “added kindling to that particular fire,” according to Anderstone.

The high voter turnout trend is likely to continue in the General Election in November. Higher voter turnout, which tends to be associated with greater turnout among lower-income voters, renters, non-college educated, and non-white voters, usually benefits more progressive candidates. And General Elections usually attract more progressive voters. That should be good news for Sawant. But, Anderstone added, the now-galvanized higher-income voters are “not just going to disappear.”

“It is likely that this will be an unusually higher-income electorate for the General.”

This dynamic has benefitted Orion (who garnered most support in wealthier areas with more homeowners, and did well in precincts with increased voter turnout) but slightly hurt Sawant in the primary, Anderstone said.

Precinct-level voting data shows Sawant easily racks up more than 50% of the vote in the denser, more racially diverse and renter-heavy heart of D3, where her message of rent control likely has resonated, but struggled in the north and water-adjacent precincts where Orion did well.

Sawant pinned down the crux of her reelection campaign in simple terms from the start. It would be a battle over who runs Seattle: Amazon and big business, or working people. Much as she built her past campaign around the $15 Now cause, Sawant’s camp teed up rent control, social housing and taxing Amazon as the rallying flags heading into November.

Meanwhile, Orion, the former Capitol Hill chamber head and longtime Pridefest organizer, launched his campaign with talk of a more business-friendly approach and a more conciliatory messaging towards Amazon, the city’s largest employer. Orion also said he was against what he called “half-baked” head tax but said he’d support new, similar efforts. In much of his messaging, Orion presented himself as a more moderate voice in City Hall and “good governance” candidate.

Challenger Zachary DeWolf took a similar approach from the left and positioned himself as a progressive alternative to Sawant’s brash style. He came in fourth with 12.59% of the votes. Another progressive candidate, Ami Nguyen, a public defender with a focus on representing all of District 3 including neighborhoods far beyond its Capitol Hill core, was able to capture over 9% of the vote.

Anderstone said that Sawant lost voters to DeWolf and Nguyen, which he saw as a sign that not all progressive voters are ranking her as their first choice. “That’s a negative signal for her, I think,” he said, suggesting these votes are “on the table” for Orion.

Fincher saw it differently. Sure, you could look at Sawant’s 36.7% total and call it a less-than-ideal performance, Fincher said. Comparatively, however, “you could say that [her] message resonated more than most other messages.”

And given that most other primary candidates’ visions — for the head tax and more affordable housing — line up with Sawant’s, Fincher believes she is in a better position than Orion. “You can get to [at least] 50% in the primary of people who voted for pro head tax candidates,” Fincher said.

But, she added, Sawant will have to galvanize voters who didn’t cast their ballots and the ones who voted for DeWolf and Nguyen.

Fincher thinks that will happen when the discussion shifts from labels to policy.

“In primaries, it’s really easy to talk in generalizations and draw distinctions based off of general messaging” such as “pragmatic” versus “radical socialist,” she said. “It’s much easier to polarize around those types of labels than it is to look at specific policy.”

For Orion, presenting himself as the “good governance” candidate has resonated more than his policies, Fincher said. But in the General, you can’t make up for vagueness with style, she said. “It’s going to be tougher.”

Both Orion and Sawant will have to walk delicate ideological lines, said Anderstone and Fincher.

“Because the success of [Egan Orion’s campaign] was partly built on an unusually high conservative turnout, they’re going to have a harder time walking the line of attracting the average, more progressive voter,” Fincher said. “He’s going to have to make himself a safe landing spot for them while also not scare off some of the very conservative voters, who were very motivated to vote for him. And that can be a tricky thing to pull off.”

“He’s going to have to appeal to those [progressive] voters while at the same time also driving energy among the kind of Seattle is Dying voters who are kind of reactive towards city issues,” Anderstone said. “In terms of tone and approach to city issues, [these are] totally different groups.”

Sawant, meanwhile, will have to straddle mobilizing her base plus lower-turnout voters while appealing to, Anderstone said, “voters who have soured a bit on her hyper populist approach.”

“That might require a bit of a tonal shift. If she doesn’t pull that off, I think chances are she’s going to get knocked out in the General.”

Want to learn more? Here is a map showing final tallies for all candidates in every King County Primary race from Jason Weill of Tableau.

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22 thoughts on “Voter turnout is up — particularly in D3’s wealthier neighborhoods — What will that mean for Sawant and Orion in November?

  1. Great maps, might want to source your political consultants a little better. Anyone who suggests that a large swath of Mr. Orion’s supporters are “conservative” and not open to progressive policies should go overlay the primary results with the results from the last three presidential elections. Our entire district was out in full force supporting President Obama and Ms. Clinton, including in the precincts that Mr. Orion performed best in.

    Are constituents supporting Mr. Orion open to progressive ideas/policies? Of course! Are they open to candidates who take on a divisive, Trump-esque, style of politicking and who are more concerned with national brand building over tackling the more mundane day-to-day issues? Nah, hard pass.

    • I agree. This article argues that Orion’s support is mainly among “conservatives,” and by extension implies that he is one of them. This fits in nicely with Sawant’s line that she is the only progressive in the race. In reality, Orion is a moderate and has many progressive positions. And, to call him a “tech bro” is ridiculous.

      • C’mon guys, it’s Seattle. By now you know, you’re not sufficiently “progressive” unless the more-progressive-than-thou Politburo of Progressivism® says you are. Otherwise, might as well just tear up your voter card, change your party affiliation, and become a full-blown TrumpHole. There’s nothing in-between.

        The biggest joke is how labeling someone as a “tech bro” is supposed to be a devastating indictment. Anyone who’s worked at all in tech can tell you, the overwhelming majority of people in the industry are pretty liberal. It’s not even close. Hard-core conservatives there are about as plentiful as pink unicorns.

  2. Why don’t you map voting results and education levels? It would probably show the same relationship. You’d likely find Sawant’s support dropping off a cliff as education levels rise.

    Look at Sawant’s supporters; does she have a single substantially accomplished person supporting her? (And, no, making 45,000 tweets is not an accomplishment.) Her pathetic “rallies” of the True Believers look like something straight out of Portlandia. Material for future cartoon series producers.

    • It’s easy to paint the supporters of a candidate you don’t like as the “dumb ones.” I know plenty of Ms. Sawant supporters who have college/advanced degrees. I also know plenty of amazing, talented folks who never pursued a degree. It’s ridiculous to draw a direct line between education and “substantial accomplishments”, doing so makes you come across as elitist.

      • I certainly agree about degrees. And I don’t hold possession of ‘advanced’ degrees in presumptively high esteem. (Sawant herself makes much of her rather pathetic PhD.)

        As to her followers, please name any who has designed a sophisticated and successful product, built a substantial business (no, vegan coffeeshops or hairstyling salons don’t cut it), worked at a responsible level in business, academia or government, produced “scholarship” somewhere other than City Arts magazine…I could go on.

        I’ll be happy to wait.

  3. “[Orion]’s…going to have a harder time walking the line of attracting the average, more progressive voter,” Fincher said.

    If this isn’t a perfect example of living in the bubble, I don’t know what is. Remember when tons more than they expected of “average voters” showed up and protested against the head tax, no doubt shocking many bubble dwellers– who thought EVERYONE was overwhelmingly in support of the head tax? They probably still believe that.

    “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”
    ~New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, after 1972 Presidential election

      • I think he does, but that isn’t my point. My point is that many of the people who were heavily in favor of the head tax likely assumed the bulk of Seattle all favored it and the stick-it-to-Amazon (and others) mentality. And that isn’t true. That comes from living in a bubble.

      • Sooo, the only difference between Orion and Sawant is style, sex, and race. Hmm

        Interesting that Orion supporters are Sawant-haters first, Orion-lovers second.

      • @Carlos
        Style? Sure. But get outta here with that sex and race BS. There’s significant overlap between Mr. Orion supporters and those that supported the 2015 challenger, Pamela Banks.

      • It also a pretty big logical leap to assume that just because they both support the head tax in some fashion, they must be in total agreement on the details. Or as Brian pointed out, just because they agree on that one issue, there must be no difference in their other views, and they only differ in race, gender, etc. Good grief.

      • @blended
        I don’t know if Orion supported the head tax as proposed by city council ($275 per person), but it wouldn’t surprise me if he supports one in general. They are quite common. I know Redmond has one, not sure how much it is though. In fact, Seattle had one from 2006-2009 at $25 per person (repealed only because of the recession, a reasonable justification IMO).

        As for me, I’m not against a head tax in general, I’m against a historically steep head tax. Why not re-introduce Seattle’s head tax at $50 per person? That would be double the rate from 2006-2009, which would likely not cause as many businesses to balk at it. I’m not surprised at all that businesses balked at a head tax that was more than 10x the rate of the previous one.

  4. Great article. :)

    An anecdotal take: When I first moved to Seattle, I thought Sawant was great. I’m liberal, and while I’m not quite as liberal as her, having someone push the Overton Window even more left seemed like a great idea.

    However, a few years, a few elections, and a few more interactions with Sawant and her organization later… I’ve mostly concluded she’s pretty ineffective and causes more harm than good. While she has some interesting ideas, she lacks nuance. By lacking nuance, she sucks the oxygen out of the conversation for ideas that might actually do something.

    (Notably, while I don’t mind rent control as a possible solution in a portfolio of ideas… the fact that she tends to crap on anything else is kind of immature.)

    While I didn’t vote for Orion during the primaries, I will be more than happy to cast a vote for “not Sawant” in the general.

    • Yes, but I still plan to vote for Sawant simply because Amazon shouldn’t have the kind of influence on the council it is obviously trying to buy, not just in D3 but in virtually every council race. I agree that she isn’t a very good publicist for the issues she raises, but we have to send the message that city government isn’t for sale. Everything else, however important, is secondary.

  5. Calling Orion a “conservative” is such a display of dishonest discourse. So now not being too keen on transforming the city into one giant homeless encampment and injection site with no jobs is a conservative thing?

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