Every candidate for public office wants to know the same thing: What do voters think?
Knowing what voters think helps candidates and their supporters determine what message to convey, or what adjustments they need to make, to win an election.
Conventional wisdom is that Democrats may be in jeopardy of losing seats in Congress and in the state Legislature this year. The public is pretty angry. Incumbents from either party will face a number of obstacles associated with this unrest. In difficult economic times, voters tend to vote according to their pocketbooks.
Last week, the University of Washington released a poll of 1,252 voters statewide that included Democrats, Republicans and independents. The academic nature of this poll does give it a level of credibility.
The poll shows that 49 percent of respondents approved of the state Legislature’s passage of a budget that included taxes, while 45 percent disapproved. However, the same respondents gave the state Legislature a 33 percent positive job approval while 43 percent disapproved.
The public was evenly split on Gov. Christine Gregoire’s job approval, which is actually good news for Gregoire. The poll shows that 41 percent approved of Attorney General Rob McKenna’s performance and 23 percent disapproved.
McKenna’s numbers are interesting from a couple of perspectives. First, slightly more Democrats were polled than Republicans, and the voters were evenly split at 40 percent each on his position opposing the president’s health care initiative. Second, and most interesting, is that as a potential candidate for governor, 37 percent had no opinion or hadn’t heard of McKenna. That is striking and serves as a double-edged political sword. It means McKenna can help create his own image in voters’ minds with many already feeling favorable. The other edge of the sword: Democrats will see the same thing and want to create their image of McKenna for voters.
Surprisingly, President Obama’s approval rating was at 58 percent. That is significantly higher than the Democratic respondents with his disapproval rating at 39 percent, which approximates the Republican respondents in this poll.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s approval rating was 51 percent with 34 percent disapproving. However, in a matchup with Republican challenger Dino Rossi, she only leads 44 percent to 40 percent.
There was a 3 percent drop since last October in the question “is the state going in the right direction?” There was a 6 percent increase in the question “is the state seriously on the wrong track?” This suggests the public is blaming the Legislature, not the governor, for most of the state’s problems.
Other policy questions, which will be noted by politicians, offered some surprises. According to the poll, since 2006 there has been an 11 percent increase (from 30 percent to 41 percent) in support for same-sex marriage. Support for removing criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana was at 52 percent. This suggests that at some point in the future, the electorate could legalize both.
Proponents of the income tax on high earners led at 58 percent to 30 percent. Those who favor privatization of liquor sales led 52 percent to 37 percent. Both of these issues could be on the ballot this fall.
Does all of this tell you what the voters will do this fall? No, but it does give you some clues as to where they are leaning.