A newly released poll suggests Washington state voters are willing to back an independent candidate — if only one could get past the state's top-two primary. A national group, and a statewide affiliate, are working to make that happen.
An independent candidate has not been elected to Washington’s Legislature since 1889, but a newly released poll suggests voters are willing to back an independent — if only one could get past the state’s top-two primary.
The poll was sponsored by Unite America, a national group pushing for a new wave of independent, centrist candidates. The group, formerly known as the Centrist Project, has a Washington affiliate called Washington Independents, co-chaired by former state GOP chairman Chris Vance and former Democratic Congressman Brian Baird.
The group’s poll, released Thursday, found 75 percent of voters said they are open to supporting independent candidates for the Legislature. In a hypothetical fall matchup, the poll found a generic independent candidate leading a generic Republican 43 percent to 24 percent, and leading a generic Democrat 35 percent to 27 percent.
The poll found 65 percent of voters say Democrats and Republicans are not working together well in the Legislature to solve problems. Nearly 80 percent of self-identified independent voters agreed with the statement “Both parties care more about winning elections than getting things done.”
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The poll of 606 likely voters was conducted between March 26 and April 4 via live telephone interviews and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Backers of the fledgling Washington Independents movement hope the poll will give a push to three independent legislative candidates endorsed by the group: Ann Diamond, a doctor running in Central Washington’s 12th Legislative District; Ned Witting, a printing-business founder running in Pierce County’s 25th Legislative District; and Marco Padilla, a Navy veteran and doctoral student running in Kitsap County’s 26th Legislative District.
“The poll shows clearly that if our candidates get through the primary they are going to win or be extremely competitive,” Vance said.
The problem is that voters are often reluctant to step out of the two-party box due to concerns about viability — 60 percent of voters in the poll said they worried that voting for an independent “might waste my vote or cause my least favorite candidate to get elected.”
Vance, who left the Republican party last year over its continued allegiance to President Donald Trump, has been arguing the U.S. needs a third party for voters tired of the partisan feuding among Democrats and Republicans. He said the poll shows “voters are hungry” for such a change but don’t believe such candidates can win. He’s determined to show otherwise by building a framework of money and volunteers for independent candidates this fall.
“I think this is the first step toward creating a third party — an organized effort to help independents,” Vance said.
Stuart Elway, the veteran Seattle pollster, said the poll’s results aren’t all that surprising given who paid for it. But he cast some cold water on the notion that there are that many truly independent voters out there.
“I have been studying independents for 40 years and I am coming to the conclusion that most of them really aren’t,” said Elway. He said most voters identify with Republicans or Democrats, while sometimes shifting from one party to the other.
When asked by pollsters, voters frequently identify as independent and say they’re disillusioned with the two-party system. (In Elway’s own December poll, he found more Washington voters identify themselves as independents than as Democrats or Republicans.) But they don’t necessarily act that way when they cast ballots, according to Elway.
“All that said, the underlying premise is probably is still valid — that there is some opening here,” Elway said.
The challenge will come when voters start evaluating particular independent candidates who may be running without the money or logistical support of one of the two major parties.