Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: Sawant Won Because...

Caffeinated news and gossip featuring this year's election map.

By Morning Fizz December 2, 2013

King County Elections has released the precinct-by-precinct results from last month's election, and Fizz asked local political consultant Benjamin Anderstone to look at the data.

McGinn’s support in Capitol Hill’s Broadway neighborhood cratered from 70 percent in 2009 to 59 percent this year. McGinn lost because Murray was able to draw away progressive bloc voters.

In the aftermath of the August primary, I wrote that Ed Murray performed best in wealthier, establishment areas—Magnolia, Laurelhurst, and other neighborhoods where incomes skew high and housing skews single-family. I also argued that incumbent Mike McGinn’s fortunes would depend on his ability to consolidate the working class.

Ultimately, both McGinn and Murray hit their marks. Murray largely consolidated upscale demographics, and McGinn consolidated young and working-class areas. A close primary election win for Murray, who made up the difference by cutting into McGinn's middle-class support in single-family turf such as West Seattle and, more importantly, in progressive enclaves such as the Broadway neighborhood, turned into a close general election win. As victories go, it was predictable and consistent.


More remarkable: how consistent Seattle voters were this year across the board. From Murray/McGinn to Richard Conlin/Kshama Sawant, from school board to public financing, 2013 demonstrated a stark divide in Seattle politics. The basic battle in Seattle is the wealthy, older center-left establishment (the “conservative bloc”) versus the younger, more urban set (the “progressive bloc.”)

Take a look at the distribution of votes for Mayor and City Council Pos. 2. Murray and Conlin shared nearly identical bases. Both candidates excelled in conservative bloc neighborhoods with older, wealthier populations, clustered around the Lake and Sound. Conlin took 90 percent at the exclusive Broadmoor Country Club, and Murray took 80 percent.  Conversely, a precinct in Capitol Hill’s dense, younger Pike-Pine Corridor gave both Conlin and Murray under 30 percent. The divide between the two blocs even held up in other races, from Proposition 1 (public financing, which lost, 50.3 to 49.6) to school board (Sue Peters/Suzanne Dale Estey, where anti-standardized testing candidate Peters won).


These two blocs aren't terribly new. Four years ago, Joe Mallahan lost to Mike McGinn with a “conservative bloc” base. 

What changed?  And how did a socialist like Sawant win alongside Murray, the “conservative” mayoral candidate?

McGinn’s loss reflects both his weaknesses and Murray’s strengths. McGinn saw fairly big losses in middle-class areas dominated by single-family homes, especially in West Seattle, where he fell from 48 percent to 42 percent. This wasn’t what doomed McGinn, though: It was progressive bloc areas that were his death knell. McGinn’s support in Capitol Hill’s Broadway neighborhood, for instance, cratered from 70 percent in 2009 to 59 percent this year. McGinn lost because Murray was able to draw away progressive bloc voters.

Viewed in this light, Conlin’s loss is pretty simple. Sawant held the progressive bloc together ably. As the maps show, Sawant struggled more than McGinn—predictably—in wealthy areas of the conservative bloc. However, her margins in the progressive bloc were very strong: She received 71 percent in Broadway, essentially the same showing as 2009 McGinn. Sawant won because she held together the progressive bloc in a way that McGinn couldn’t.

This year’s election demonstrated that Seattle races are generally variants on a theme. Seattle voters have, at least on the aggregate level, self-sorted into two groups. These groups appear evenly enough matched that small shifts, such as Murray’s relatively strong performance in the heart of the progressive bloc, can decide elections. It’s yet to be seen how durable these two blocs are. But, at least for now, they are clearly what shape the landscape of Seattle politics.

Benjamin Anderstone is a Seattle-and-Tacoma-based political consultant who specializes in analyzing voter behavior and election results. Benjamin's work has been featured in the Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Fox News's Fox and Friends, Tacoma News Tribune, and at academic summits on political geography.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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