The results of the latest Elway Poll gauging voters' take on the upcoming legislative session in Olympia confirms a theory I've had lately: It's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who need to find their footing after the 2012 election.
Indeed, the Republican takeover in the state senate—despite this fall's Democratic sweep—isn't an aberration, it's a confirmation of the numbers on the ground. Evidently (and I'll get to the Elway poll in a minute), it's a reflection of how voters feel as the state legislature gets set to deal with a $900 million budget shortfall and a mandate from the state Supreme Court to find $1 billion in additional funding for K-12 educaiton.
The Republican takeover in the state senate isn't an aberration, it's a confirmation of the numbers on the ground.
Traditionally, Washington state Democrats have been able to scare voters away from the GOP and translate culture war issues into votes.
I get that culture war issues are also economic issues (women's health care policy, for example, has a huge impact on half the population's ability to work and earn a living; and bringing gays into the mainstream is a profound step forward for the economy as well). But with all eyes on straight-up budgeting issues, the fact that Democrats face a disconnect with Washington voters may now be fully exposed.
For starters, the Elway poll found that voters' top issues as the legislative session in Olympia begins are: the economy (43 percent) and the budget (24 percent). Meanwhile, traditional Democratic concerns—social services, health care, and the environment—barely rated, coming in at five percent, four percent, and two percent respectively. (Of course, voters were only given the chance to choose one issue, rather than several—a factor that could have skewed the poll toward economic concerns).
But that's not the real bad news for the Democrats. Here's what else the Elway Poll found: When voters were questioned further about their top issues (again, the economy and the budget), and asked what they thought was the "most significant reason why state government is short of money," the largest contingent, 42 percent, blamed "waste and over-spending by government," clearly a GOP read of the problem.
As for the competing Democratic frame—that the state has a revenue problem rather than a spending problem— half as many people, 21 perecent, agreed.
When asked how to deal with the problem, Republican themes won out: 30 percent, the biggest number, would not abide by tax increases; 25 percent wanted spending cuts; and 22 percent lined up with the Democrats' solution, raising taxes and cutting loopholes.
Washington State was cast nationally as a harbinger for the ascension of Democratic values. However, Washington State contains some warning signs for the Democratic message as well.
An okay footnote for the Democrats: the 30 percent that weren't for taxes said they wanted a combo of cuts that includes cutting loopholes. Keep in mind, though, Republicans support cutting loopholes as well; the Republican house was all for closing the big bank loophole, which they did last year.
The Elway Poll isn't gospel, but these numbers expose an odd reality for the Democrats—one that a prescient New York Times column by The Nation's Eric Alterman criticizing the Democrats and titled "Cultural Liberalism is Not Enough" pointed out last year: Democrats need an economic message that is as compelling as their successful civil rights message—and that doesn't just boil down to "raise taxes."
By legalizing gay marriage and leading the way on pot (and electing Democrats up and down the ballot), Washington state was cast nationally as a harbinger for the ascension of Democratic values. However, if the pundits take a closer look, they'll find that Washington State contains some warning signs for the Democrats as well.