The issues that matter most among Washington voters are abortion and inflation, according to a new statewide poll.
When asked to choose from more than a dozen issues, 28% of voters who said they were likely to vote in the upcoming November elections selected abortion as most important to them and 20% selected inflation.
The rest chose other options, such as border security, crime, guns and climate change. Yet none of those issues cracked 10% among the 596 voters surveyed, suggesting the elections may hinge on whom voters trust to make decisions about abortion rights and whom they hold responsible for price increases at the gas pump and beyond.
The WA Poll, sponsored by The Seattle Times, KING 5, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, and Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication, was conducted online July 6-10 with a pool of respondents weighted to U.S. Census targets for gender, age, race, education and homeownership.
The political landscape could change between now and November, but voting in Washington’s Aug. 2 primary elections has already begun, with abortion and inflation dominating kitchen table discussions from Seattle to Spokane.
Women were more likely to list abortion as their No. 1 issue in the WA Poll, as were voters under age 50, and Democrats. Men were more likely to list inflation No. 1, as were voters age 50-plus, and Republicans.
The top issue among voters who identified as Democrats (42% of the likely November voters surveyed) was abortion, followed by inflation. For self-identified independents (27% of the voters surveyed), it was inflation, then abortion. And for self-identified Republicans (26% of the voters surveyed), it was inflation, then border security.
Megan Logan, a teacher who lives in West Seattle and who participated in the poll, was horrified last month when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, thereby allowing states to enact abortion bans. She plans to vote for Democrats who support abortion rights.
Though Washington law has since 1991 guaranteed the right to an abortion until the point that a fetus can survive outside the uterus, a number of Republican-controlled states have enacted abortion bans.
“There won’t be equality without women being able to make decisions for themselves,” said Logan, 41, worried that bans will disproportionately hurt lower-income women. “Pregnant people are going to die — through botched abortions, through suicide, through partner abuse. Because making abortions illegal doesn’t stop abortions, it just stops safe abortions.”
Down in Olympia, abortion is “not a hot-button issue” for poll participant John Smistad, he said. The part-time delivery driver is focused instead on inflation, which grew 9.1% nationally between June 2021 and June 2022. The average cost of gas in Washington is more than $5 per gallon.
“The gas prices shouldn’t be where they are,” Smistad said. “Meat prices have gone up noticeably and things like pasta sauce. Things that people buy a lot.”
The 63-year-old plans to vote “straight Republican” in November because he believes Democrats like President Joe Biden have failed to lasso inflation and because the high prices are unacceptable, he said, adding that he plans to skip a Christmas trip to see relatives because of travel costs.
Many pundits have predicted a “red wave” for Republican candidates, citing low approval ratings for Biden. But the WA Poll results include positive signs, said Andrew Reding, chair of the Whatcom County Democrats.
In Washington’s hotly contested 42nd Legislative District, where the Whatcom Dems are trying to pick up a third seat, they’re hoping a surge in concern about abortion rights will drive turnout, and they’re reminding voters that price increases are battering countries around the world, not just the U.S., with causes such as COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Reding said. The district, which includes urban, suburban and rural areas, is split between conservatives and liberals.
“We’re talking about a knife edge,” said Reding, glad to hear that only 8% of the poll respondents chose crime as most important to them, because Republicans have sought to criticize Democrats on that issue.
The poll results only partly jibe with what she has been told on doorsteps, said Anita Azariah, vice chair of the Snohomish County GOP and a state Senate candidate in the 38th Legislative District.
“The No. 1 issue I’m hearing is inflation and the No. 2 issue is safety … Only four people have talked about abortion,” said Azariah, who opposes abortion, with some exceptions, arguing voters in Snohomish County care more about housing costs and break-ins.
In the WA Poll, voters who identified as moderate were more likely than others to list crime as their top issue, as were voters with lower incomes.
The poll was conducted by SurveyUSA, with a credibility interval of plus/minus 5 percentage points for the group of likely November voters.
Though Logan in West Seattle and Smistad in Olympia harbor strong opinions about abortion and inflation, they think other voters feel even more urgency.
“Holy crap” was how poll participant Danielle Stanke reacted when she realized the right to an abortion anywhere in the U.S. was being taken away in the same month that she was graduating high school. The 18-year-old from Kettle Falls in Stevens County is fired up to vote for the first time.
“I believe it’s very important to vote for those who will protect our right to be able to terminate unwanted pregnancies,” said Stanke, describing herself as a liberal-leaning moderate who sticks out in her conservative, rural community.
Many younger voters are like Stanke, according to the poll: Abortion was the most important issue for 41% of respondents under age 34.
Near the Columbia River, Kathleen Berg is also on edge. She opposes abortion, so the recent court ruling went her way. But the retired dental assistant, a poll participant from Goldendale in Klickitat County, is angry about price hikes eating into her savings. In the poll, Eastern Washington voters chose inflation as their most important issue at a higher rate.
“Retirement is going to be very difficult” if the increases persist, said Berg, 70, who hates Democrats, dislikes Republicans and supported Donald Trump partly because, “The gas prices were very nice” when he was president.
Berg and her husband have cut back on driving, trying to avoid using gas for trips other than medical appointments, she said, adding, “We can’t even afford to go fishing now, and the river’s only 10 miles away.”
Logan and Smistad live in state and congressional districts held by Democrats, while Stanke and Berg live in districts held by Republicans. They’ll all vote on whether to retain U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Logan would be voting for Murray and other Democrats whether or not Roe v. Wade had been struck down, she said. But the Supreme Court’s decision has spurred her to donate more money to campaigns and to discuss the issue with at least one relative who has leaned Republican in the past.
“We’ve been working on my dad,” she said.