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Spin Control: Biden, Inslee not popular, but Dems do well in survey

Kyle Twohig, center, then Spokane’s director of engineering services, gives Gov. Jay Inslee a tour of the University District Gateway Bridge in this October 2018 photo. Twohig has accepted a job as senior director of public works at Spokane County.  (Libby Kamrowski)

President Joe Biden’s approval rating in Washington appears to have tanked and Gov. Jay Inslee’s rating isn’t much better. Many voters think things are unlikely to get better in the next year and that their state and federal governments aren’t doing a good job of representing their interests.

But voters might feel more favorable toward Democrats than Republicans, a new survey suggests.

The most recent Crosscut Elway Poll, conducted earlier this month, suggests that voters may be “uncoupling” their low opinions of the current president and governor with their decisions on how to mark their ballots in the upcoming election, pollster H. Stuart Elway said.

Other factors, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned the Roe v. Wade abortion decision, a series of mass shootings, and the revelations of U.S. House Jan. 6 committee may be helping Democrats, Elway said.

Less than one voter in three gave Biden a positive job rating, and only 2 of 5 had a positive job rating for Inslee. That’s the lowest point for both in any Crosscut Elway Poll, which is conducted twice a year.

Voters were also pessimistic that things would get better over the next year. Only about 1 in 4 thought things would get better in the country, about 1 in 3 thought things would get better in the state and their community, and only 44% said they thought things would get better for themselves and their household.

“This is the first time ever that (last) number was underwater,” Elway said.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said they weren’t being represented by the federal government and more than half said they weren’t being represented by the state government – both of which are controlled by Democrats.

Ordinarily, such numbers would mean the party in power is in for a tough time in the upcoming elections, but other survey questions suggest that may not be the case. The state and national Democratic parties had higher favorable ratings than their GOP counterparts. Asked about their district’s congressional race, 51% said they were likely to vote for a Democrat compared to 32% for a Republican.

For those who said they were likely to vote for a Republican, an endorsement by former President Donald Trump could be a key to their choice. Three out of five voters surveyed statewide and nearly three out of four in Eastern Washington said they’d be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate Trump endorsed, while only about 1 in 10 said they’d vote against such a candidate.

That could make a difference in central Washington’s 4th Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse voted to impeach Trump and is facing several GOP challengers, including former Republic Police Chief Loren Culp who has been endorsed by the former president.

Asked how they were inclined to vote in the U.S. Senate race, 53% picked Patty Murray, the incumbent Democrat, and 33% picked Tiffany Smiley, the leading Republican challenger. In a January Crosscut Elway poll, when asked to choose between Murray and “a Republican challenger” because there was no real front-runner, the incumbent only led by three points.

While the earlier poll may have boosted GOP hopes, Elway said the shift isn’t that surprising. “In every Patty Murray poll, she always runs better against the real Republican rather than a generic Republican,” he said.

Voters in the survey were split over which party should control state government, but Democrats generally did better. A plurality of 40% said Democrats should control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office. One in five said Republicans should control both, while 1 in 5 said control of the Legislature should be divided between parties.

Slightly over half said they planned to vote for Democrats in the upcoming legislative races while 1 in 3 said they planned to vote for Republicans.

Those numbers shift, not surprisingly, between Eastern and Western Washington. Biden and Inslee get lower marks in the east, where voters are much more likely to say they aren’t well-represented by federal and state governments. But even in Eastern Washington, where most legislators and county elected officials are Republicans, both parties have a majority of voters in the survey with unfavorable opinions of the national and state parties.

Polls don’t predict the outcome of elections. Instead, they offer a snapshot of voters’ opinions on issues, political parties and candidates at they time they are taken.

A majority of voters in the July survey said the Legislature should take action to ban assault weapons, increase law enforcement and reduce homelessness, and a plurality said it should give parents more control over schools.

Eastern Washington voters were evenly split on keeping the state law on abortions as it is, adding restrictions or putting the right to abortion into the state constitution. Statewide, however, 41% favored putting abortion rights into the constitution and 32% said keep the law as it is while only 23% said they wanted more restrictions.

Abortion is a key issue for more voters than in previous surveys, Elway said, possibly because last month’s the U.S. Supreme Court ruling emphasized that elections have consequences.

“It woke up a lot of people who didn’t believe that could happen,” he said.

One big separation between the parties is their confidence in the state’s all-mail voting system. Overall, 52% of voters surveyed said they are very confident the system is secure and accurate and another 14% are somewhat confident, while 12% said they have doubts and 19% said they are not at all confident in the system.

Among Republicans, however, those numbers are essentially reversed, with 52% saying they have no confidence in the system and 23% saying they have doubts. Only 12% said they are very confident in the system and another 14% saying they are somewhat confident.

The state has had only a few instances of voter fraud and candidates who claimed widespread fraud and corruption in the 2020 election did not produce evidence to back up that up.

Elway said having three-fourths of Republicans questioning the state’s voting system is “pretty staggering,” especially considering Republicans have held the office of Secretary of State, which oversees elections, for decades.

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