Seattle, WA – November 24, 2023
The once-established mantra of “People over party” in Washington’s political landscape has undergone a seismic shift, as revealed by a recent Crosscut/Elway Poll. This change reflects the deep-rooted political polarization that has taken hold in the historically moderate state, where ticket-splitting, once commonplace, has become increasingly rare.
In a stark illustration of this growing divide, partisans from both major political parties now view the presumptive nominee of the opposing party as a tangible threat to the nation. According to the poll, a staggering 88% of Democrats see former President Donald Trump as a “danger to democracy,” while 83% of Republicans express the same concern about President Joe Biden.
Additionally, significant majorities in both parties believe the opposing candidate is corrupt, marking a departure from the era when politicians spoke respectfully of their opponents as “worthy.”
Washington, known for its political independence, has a rich history of supporting third-party candidates. In 1912, the state voted for the Bull Moose Party and later backed John Anderson in 1980, as well as Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. However, this tradition of embracing individual candidates over party lines has experienced a rapid transformation within just one generation.
Before the year 2000, Democrats and Republicans frequently split the Washington electorate. Notable instances include the state voting for Republican Dan Evans for governor and Democrat Lyndon Johnson for president in 1964.
In subsequent years, Washington swung between supporting Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in the following election, with control of the state Legislature alternating between the two parties.
The state’s lack of party registration makes it challenging to gauge party identification accurately. Over the years, party identification has shifted, with Democrats holding a six-point advantage during the Bush administration and expanding to a 15-point advantage in the Biden administration.
Despite a long-standing presence of voters who identify as independent, the distinction between “independent” and “ticket-splitter” has become more pronounced in the face of heightened partisanship.
The recent Crosscut/Elway Poll found that only 2% of respondents planned to split their ticket in upcoming elections, emphasizing the rarity of such behavior.
Since 2000, Democrats in Washington have consistently garnered between 54% and 57% of the total vote, while Republicans have secured 42% to 45%. These numbers highlight a widening gap between party identifiers and actual voters, underscoring the dominance of partisanship in federal elections.
As Washington navigates this evolving political landscape, questions arise about the elusive middle ground that figures like Joe Manchin and Larry Hogan seek to tap into with movements like No Labels.
The poll results suggest that while equilibrium exists in national politics and on specific issues, a politically viable center may be increasingly elusive, especially in the current year. The reluctance to take the risk of voting for a third-party candidate, fearing the ascent of a perceived “danger to democracy,” adds an intriguing layer to the complex dynamics shaping Washington’s political future.