Notes on the Washington primary 

On Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende provides an excellent analysis of the results of this week’s Washington primary, based on the still incomplete election returns. As he points out, Washington’s primary system provides something in the nature of a forecast of the general election. Voters can vote for candidates of any party, and the top two candidates of whichever party end up on the general election ballot. So the percentage of those voting for a particular party’s candidates is a pretty good indication of voters’ general election intentions, at least on primary day.

 In the contest for U.S. senator, Democratic incumbent Patty Murray got 46% of the vote and Republican Dino Rossi, the party’s nominee for governor in 2004 and 2008, got 34%. But when you add up the votes for each party’s candidates, Republicans got 50% of the vote and Democrats 48%. Similarly, Republicans outpolled Democrats in the 3rd congressional district, where Democratic incumbent Brian Baird is retiring and got 47% in the 2nd congressional district and 44% in the 9th congressional district, both currently held by Democrats running for reelection. Trende is on solid ground in saying that the 3rd district looks like a Republican pickup and that the 2nd district could be seriously contested. Also in the 8th district, where Republican Dave Reichert nearly lost in 2006 and 2008, 58% of votes were cast for Republicans this time. Overall, Republicans got 47% of the votes cast for the House and Democrats got 48% (no Republican ran in the heavily Democratic 7th district; if one had the Republicans would have probably outpolled the Democrats slightly, as they did in the Senate race).

 The following table shows the Republican percentage in each congressional district in 2010 and 2008 (Washington did not use the current system in 2004 and 2006 and used a variant of it from 1992 to 2002), the change in Republican percentage between the two primaries, and the Republican percentage in the 2008 general election.

                               CD                           2010       2008       dif           11/08

                                1                              38.9        33.6        +  5.3      32.2

                                2                              46.6        37.7        +  8.9      37.6

                                3                              52.9        36.5        +16.4      36.0

                                4                              64.9        62.2        +  2.7      63.0

                                5                              62.5        63.3        -     .8      65.3

                                6                              42.4        30.3        +12.1      33.1

                                7                                    0        14.9            -           16.3

                                8                              58.4        48.5        +   9.9     52.8

                                9                              44.5        35.3        +   9.2     34.6

 Two things to note. One is that there is an uncanny similarity in the Republican percentages in the 2008 primary and general elections. The one significant difference is in the 8th district, where incumbent Reichert was able to hold off the well-funded challenge of Democrat Darcy Burner.

 The other thing to note is that there was relatively little change in the Republican percentage in the most polarized districts in the state between Republican percentages in the 2008 and 2010 primaries. That’s true of the heavily Republican 4th and 5th districts, which cover the part of the state east of the Cascades, and it’s true of the 7th district, centered on the central city of Seattle, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, and to a lesser extent of the 1st district, which lies just to the north and covers suburban areas around Redmond and in southern Snohomish County. This techy 1st district went Republican in 1994 and 1996 but was recaptured by Democrats in 1998, as Republicans’ conservative positions on cultural issues were turning off voters in techy areas.

 The biggest shifts toward Republicans, as measured by the 2008 and 2010 primaries, come in the more blue collar areas, the 3rd and 6th districts, and to a lesser extent in the south suburban/exurban 8th and 9th districts. The picture I get is that the loudest warriors in the culture war politics are staying true to their previous party preferences, while those less strongly engaged in those struggles, particularly voters of modest incomes and less-than-elite educations, have moved strongly away from the Obama Democrats.

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