A look at Washington state party identity

About four years ago, I examined how party identity had changed in both the U.S. and Washington state over a two year period following the mid-term elections. Writing about Washington state in 2007, I pointed out:

We have a somewhat wacky brand of Republicanism here. My impression is that the Washington state Republican party has moved significantly to the right to such an extent that the moderate Republican in Washington state seems like an endangered species.

A graph showing party identity over time, based on SurveyUSA polling data, showed some clear patterns:


Democratic identity had increased slightly from the low thirties to about 35%.

Republican identity had declined somewhat, from about 28% down to at least 25%, and 19% by July 2007.

Since mid-2007, we’ve had economic calamity, the Obama revolution, followed by a Tea Party revolt, and the Occupy movement in response. Unfortunately, SurveyUSA has only published data through August of this year, so we cannot look at changes brought on by the three month old Occupy movement. What we can do is look at a time period similar to my four year old analysis.

What do we see?


Not surprisingly, Democratic identity peaked shortly after Obama’s inauguration—it was in the low 40s in early 2009. Then, for a one year period, Democratic identity dropped to the mid- to low-30s, before a rocky recovery. By July of this year, Democratic identity was in the high 30s, only slightly down from the post-inauguration honeymoon.

In fact, Democratic identity is about where it was four years earlier, in July, 2007.

Republicans show a decline over the same period, from the high-20s just after the inauguration, followed by a gradual (if variable) decline to about 25% by July. Really, the Republican numbers are very similar to July of 2007.

Independent identity has increased from the mid-20% to the high-30%. One reason for this is an increase in the number of people who picked an identity as a “D”, “R”, or “I”, instead of an “other” category or a no-response.

For the first half of 2007, the spread between Democratic identity and Republican identity bounced around 10%, with a huge 18% spike in July. For 2011, the spread for the first half of the year is slightly over 10%.

What does all this mean? Maybe nothing. But it is interesting that we ended the summer in about the same place we were four years ago. There have been no real gains for Democrats or Republicans.

The one big difference we see is that more people chose to identify as independent instead instead of some other category. This might seem important for the many open statewide elections we have in 2012. A lot will probably be made about it. But I don’t think its all that important.

Here is what I think is happening: the increase in “D”, “R”, or “I” identity is an artifact of the top-two primary that was implemented in 2008. It simply reflects a decline in third-party identity. After a couple elections in which third-parties rarely make it to the general election (except, of course, presidential elections) people are less inclined to identify their party as, say, Libertarian, Green, or Reform.

If correct, this hypothesis suggests that the increase in Independent identity isn’t some sort of grand political movement…rather it’s a natural outcome of the top-two primary.


  1. 1

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The striking thing about those graphs is that twice as many people identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. This explains a lot. Republicans would have you believe that if they lose an election (say, for governor), the election must have been stolen. But in the Real World, Republicans lose elections in Washington because … well, because, not very many of the people here vote for Republicans. Figuring this out really isn’t as difficult as, say, finding the Higgs boson.

  2. 2

    rhp6033 spews:

    I think in Washington State the urban/suburban/exurb/rural split is the most predominant feature. Those from the rural and exurb areas tend to be strongly Republican and rather insular in their social worls, so they just presume it’s the same everywhere else – except for minorities and those pesky socialists in Seattle. Talking to one another, they form the opinion that EVERYBODY hates whatever particular Democrat happens to be in charge.

    That’s why they are so astounded when they get beaten so badly in state-wide elections.

  3. 3

    Michael spews:

    That’s a pretty good take on things. I differ in that I think we have a suburban and exurban bubble Republican. Rural Washington has so few people in it that it’s not really a factor in state-wide anything and some rural folks, like on the Olympic Peninsula, tend to vote for Democrats.

  4. 4

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    @1,2 &3,

    My, aren’t we pleased with ourselves! You guys are pretty much in love with yourselves. Do you view your opinions as moral values? It sure looks that way to everyone else.

  5. 6

    Michael spews:

    Do we have a whole bunch of rural folks that me and the US Census don’t know about? Does no one on the OP vote for Democrats?

  6. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Republicans Are Absurd Dep’t

    “Most congressional Democrats would prefer to pay for a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits by imposing a 1.9 percent surtax on income above $1 million a year, but Republicans have rejected that as a burden on small business owners.”


    Roger Rabbit Commentary: If you’re making $1 million a year from your business, your business isn’t a “small” business.

  7. 9

    math whiz spews:

    maybe the democrats can pat themselves on the back a little less and take some responsibility for voting in a bunch of inept losers who have trashed the states budget.

    good job democrats…..way to demonstrate how well a one party state works…lol


  8. 10

    Politically Incorrect spews:

    Not really sure what you’re even talking about there PI.

    It’s just that you people are extremely arrogant and condescending. That’s all.

    Your opinions are not moral values.

  9. 11


    PI @ 10,

    “It’s just that you people are extremely arrogant and condescending…”

    …he said, with arrogance and condescension.

  10. 12

    Michael spews:

    Your opinions are not moral values.

    Never said mine were. This isn’t a discussion of moral values, this is about demographics.

    It’s just that you people are extremely arrogant and condescending. That’s all.

    I’m still lost as to how a discussion of demographics can be extremely arrogant and condescending.

  11. 13

    Michael spews:


    Our state’s tax collection system is set up in such a way that it will chronically underfund the systems that it needs to fund. Republicans have chronically balked at fixing this problem.

    Which isn’t to say that the Democrats couldn’t do better, they sure could. But, when it comes to election day there’s either a D or an R next the the people you get to vote for and 9 times out of 10 voting for a person with an R next to their name would make the problem worser (hey spellcheck thinks it’s a word so wtf) than voting for the person with a D next to their name.

  12. 14

    rhp6033 spews:

    # 9: As reasonable people here have demonstrated (repeatedly), the State of Washington doesn’t have a spending problem. It’s spending hasn’t surpassed the rate of growth of population or the gross domestic product of the state – it’s stayed pretty consistent, or below, both levels.

    What we have is a revenue problem, caused by

    (a) a prolonged and deep national (and international) rescession; and

    (b) an antiquated tax structure which benefits big businesses and the wealthy, puts the largest burden on the poor, middle-class, and small business, and is particularly sensitive to extreme swings in spending in a rescessionary environment.

  13. 15

    Michael spews:

    From 1998 to 2009 spending by the state of Washington has grown from 22.8B a year to 43.4B a year. Perhaps you’d like us to be more like Nebraska where spending went from 4.7B to 9.03B over the same time period? Or Rick Perry’s Texas where spending went from 51.06B to 110.7B?

    The data’s available here:

  14. 16

    Perfect Voter spews:

    I think the pushback we’re hearing here comes from R’s who recognize the truth of the demographics and are nervous as Hell, and deservedly so. Especially now on the heals of all those incredible Republican presidential “debates”. Two huge trends towards Democrats next November.

  15. 18

    math whiz spews:


    so you are saying that the states population has doubled in the last 10 years?

    LMFAO…way to own yourself.

  16. 21

    Michael spews:

    The point being that those Republican led states did the same thing that we did. They doubled their spending just like us. You’re bitching about the Democrats, but the fact of the matter is that every state doubled its spending. You wouldn’t get a different outcome if the Republicans had been in charge.

  17. 22

    math whiz spews:


    your examples prove that a one party state, no matter which party, dont seem to work out too well.

    a point I have been making for years…

    the lemmings see, the lemmings do,