History, politics, people of Oly WA

What statewide partisan identification could mean for 2024 elections and beyond

Washington voters seem increasingly engaged in politics, yet not through stronger party identification. This could spell trouble for Republicans, as it hasn’t translated into significant gains for them.

I’ve been tracking party identification data in Washington for years, and the past six years have revealed some intriguing trends. 

Link to my spreadsheet here

Since Washington doesn’t register by party, partisan identity is fluid and personal, constantly evolving based on individual choice or poll responses.

Overall, Democratic identification has steadily grown since the 1990s, becoming dominant in the past decade. Republican identification has consistently shrunk during this period, while the independent category has also declined, albeit at a slower pace.

But the data gets interesting when we dig deeper. For clarity, I’ve grouped the trends by Presidential eras, reflecting the nationalization of politics and its influence on state-level partisan identity.

A Peek at Two Recent Eras:

Obama era: Both Republican and Democratic identification declined, with independents becoming the plurality during Obama’s second term.

Trump era: Independent identification plummeted over 14 points in four years, with Democrats gaining the most (8.25%) and Republicans gaining less (1.25%).

Biden’s Early Presidency:

Now, after three years of Biden in office, clear trends emerge:

  • Democratic identification remains stable despite fluctuations among independents and Republicans.
  • Republicans have gained 1.70% since Biden, while independents have gained 6.73%. Notably, Democratic identification has only dropped 0.11% during this period.

The Mystery of Missing Responses:

The key lies in a rarely reported fourth category: “did not respond.” More people have started answering the party identification question again during Biden’s presidency, and those responses vary across polls. However, one thing is consistent: voters are re-engaging with the question.

Not All Roses for Republicans:

While Republicans and independents may be recovering some lost ground, it’s significant that those returning to the question aren’t siding with either party. Democrats still hold a comfortable lead in identification, despite the movement among other groups.

Looking Ahead:

If Biden is re-elected, a repeat of the Obama era endgame is possible. Independents might become the largest group statewide, while Democrats maintain their lead or decline slightly. During Obama’s presidency, this coincided with a Republican decline (-2.56%) and a rapid independent surge (+6.76%).

In conclusion, Washington voters are indeed becoming more politically engaged, but not necessarily through traditional party affiliation. This trend holds both opportunities and challenges for different political groups, with the potential for further shifts in the state’s political landscape.

The increase in Independent ID during the Obama era resulted in a unique phenomenon in Thurston County: local candidates successfully running and winning without either party label. This strategy has shown staying power, exemplified by incumbents like Gary Edwards retaining their seats. However, since the Trump era’s decline of the independent category, partisan-backed candidates like Tye Menser have unseated independents, and independents in open seats have struggled. The increase again during a potential Biden second presidency could mean a repeat of this trend.

This suggests that while independents might thrive in local, county-level races where statewide political norms hold less sway, a different breed of candidate would be needed to harness the potential surge in independent identification and launch a successful campaign for statewide or legislative office.

1 Comment

  1. HW3

    Please spare us horseshoe progressives fleeing Biden for RFK or Trump

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