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Democratic wave may not wash many Republicans out of office

An election ballot is placed in ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, in downtown Spokane. A recent poll of 500 registered Washington voters found that, while Democrats may be more active than usual this year, most districts remain split down partisan lines, meaning those that voted for Republicans last year will likely do so again. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
An election ballot is placed in ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, in downtown Spokane. A recent poll of 500 registered Washington voters found that, while Democrats may be more active than usual this year, most districts remain split down partisan lines, meaning those that voted for Republicans last year will likely do so again. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A “blue wave” of voters backing Democrats may be headed for Washington in the fall elections, a new poll suggests, but it might not wash many Republicans out of office.

Democratic voters seem to be more enthusiastic than Republicans about taking or keeping control of Congress or the Legislature, the survey by Elway Research Inc. shows.

They were far more likely to say they were either disappointed, worried or angry about Republican control of Congress and the White House than to say they were enthusiastic or satisfied.

While about three of four Republicans in the statewide poll of 500 registered voters said they were very likely to favor a candidate who supports President Donald Trump, nine of 10 Democrats said they’d favor a candidate who opposes him. Independents were split, but were more likely to back a candidate who opposes Trump.

About one voter in three said it was “important” for Democrats to take control of at least one house of Congress, while only about one voter in five said it was important for Republicans to continue to control both houses.

When voters were asked whether they intended to vote for the incumbent member of Congress or a challenger from the other party, Democrats had a 10-point advantage statewide, with 48 percent of voters saying they plan to vote for the Democrat and 38 percent saying they plan to vote for the Republican.

But much of that enthusiasm is in districts that already tilt toward Democrats, pollster H. Stuart Elway said.

“An 80 percent turnout for Democrats in Seattle in not going to change a thing in the Capitol,” he said.

The poll is separate from the survey of 403 voters in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District that Elway Research conducted for The Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Spokane Public Radio and the Lewiston Tribune. In that survey, reported earlier this week, incumbent Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers held a 6 percentage point lead over Democratic challenger Lisa Brown, 44 percent to 38 percent.

In the statewide poll, Elway asked about preferences for the upcoming congressional races. In most of the races, he asked whether voters were likely to support the incumbent, who was named, or an unnamed candidate from the opposite party. In the case of the 5th District, he named both McMorris Rodgers and Brown because they were the two established candidates.

While the results for individual districts are so small that they have an unacceptably high margin of error, Democratic incumbents fare better than Republican incumbents when the results of their respective districts are combined.

In districts with Democratic incumbents, 56 percent of respondents said they planned to vote for the incumbent, compared to 29 percent who said they planned to vote for the challenger. In GOP districts, the lead was less commanding, with 50 percent saying they’d vote for Republican incumbents, and 36 percent saying they’d vote for a candidate from the other party.

Washington has relatively few “swing” districts. Six of its 10 congressional districts consistently elected Democrats this decade, and the other four elected Republicans.

Among the Legislature’s 49 districts, 21 send three Democrats to Olympia and 20 send three Republicans; four are split, with two Democrats and one Republican; the other four are split the other way.

That resulted in a Legislature this year with a two-vote majority for Democrats in the House and a one-vote Democratic majority in the Senate.

Control of the Legislature is likely to be determined by those eight districts that split their votes between candidates of the two parties, Elway said.

Half the surveyed voters rated the Democratic-controlled Legislature as somewhat or very effective, while 38 percent rated it as not very or not at all effective. That view was also shaded by political leanings, with about two-thirds of the Democrats polled rating the Legislature as effective and half the Republicans saying it wasn’t.

Voters in districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election were more likely to back Democrats this year for the Legislature, while voters in districts won by Trump were only slightly more likely to back Republicans.

The results suggest the Washington GOP will try to run local candidates, differentiating Northwest Republicans from those on the national stage, and talk about keeping “Seattle values” outside of their districts, Elway said. Democrats will campaign against Trump, he said.