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Study finds many who voted to privatize liquor sales in Washington would now vote differently

Washingtonians may not have voted to privatize liquor sales if they’d been able to see the effects of the law, a new study suggests.

According to an article published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 20 percent of people who voted for I-1183 in 2011 would change their vote now, compared with just 4 percent of people who voted against the initiative.

That shift would likely have been enough to tip the vote against the initiative. About 59 percent of voters supported it in 2011. The initiative was most heavily backed by Costco, though other grocery store chains contributed to the yes campaign.

The survey, published this summer, was based on a telephone survey of 1,202 random adults contacted in 2014, when the law had been in effect for just under two years. It was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

I-1183 resulted in spirits becoming more available and also raised taxes, leaving Washington with by far the highest liquor taxes in the nation.

The study found spirit prices rose on average 15.5 percent for 750 milliliter containers, and 4.7 percent for 1.75 liter containers. About 1,600 stores were selling spirits after privatization, versus just 330 stores before.

The study suggests voters were more swayed to change their opinions by the increased availability of alcohol than other concerns, including prices and youth alcohol abuse. Many of the people who said they would change their vote to no also said there should be fewer liquor stores in the state, the study found.

People who drink and buy spirits were most likely to have an opinion on the initiative’s impacts, but were about evenly split on whether it had been a success, with 43 percent saying yes and 44 percent saying no. The rest said they didn’t know.

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