8 years of polls show Seattle council’s downward popularity slide

Jun 14, 2019, 5:13 AM | Updated: 12:10 pm
Seattle City Council 2019...
(Seattle City Council)
(Seattle City Council)

The Seattle City Council is facing a partial overhaul in the upcoming election with seven seats in play and with a minimum of four new council members come November, given a handful of retirements from the nine-member council.

Seattle City Council poised for major shakeup in 2019

And while city councils in many large metropolitan cities suffer from popularity dips, Seattle’s council has hit an unusually low mark this May: Nearly half of voters surveyed (47 percent) in a private poll in May believe the city is on the wrong track – the highest total recorded in nearly a decade.

Additionally, while 38 percent of the voters surveyed believe the city is headed in the right direction, that number is down from 50 percent of respondents just one year ago.CourtesyThe tracking data, obtained by KIRO Radio, comes from a dozen private, policy polls funded since 2011 by local groups and trade unions. In each, between 400 and 1,000 people were asked if they believed the city was headed in the right direction or if it is on the wrong track. That question, typically, is asked in many polls before the specific policy issue is raised, such as the education levy.

In the same polls, the mayor’s office — regardless of who the mayor is — tends to fare better in public opinion than the council does. So do some council members within their own districts.

Generally, the Seattle City Council doesn’t spend as a group on polling. But some interest groups and unions, such as SEIU, occasionally fund polls on specific issues and then make the results available to council members. This was the case on the 2018 poll which revealed to the council the effect of the large-company employee tax, also called the head tax.

Looking at the data over several years, it makes clear that prospective candidates and incumbent council members – who had access to much of this polling over the past several years – knew it was either time to step aside or mount aggressive fundraising efforts to win a seat.

Secret poll reveals deep unpopularity of Seattle City Council

The slide in public perception also underscores why the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, business groups, and wealthy donors, were willing to back numerous challengers for seven council seats.

The three current council members who have chosen to run — Kshama Sawant, Lisa Herbold and Deborah Juarez — are fundraising aggressively. Sawant, alone has raised over $150,000. Her leading opponent, Logan Bowers, also ranks among the top fundraisers for council seats in the city.

But the data doesn’t just indicate a long-term, dimming perception of Seattle’s direction; it also shows the dramatic effect of the current council’s defining move in March 2018, when it voted to approve the head tax. The chart vividly shows — with a large “X” in the graphic —  the dramatic, opposite paths of “right direction” and “wrong track.”

And while the council’s reputation took a slight upward tick after the council later repealed the head tax — a vote that occurred, in part, because council members saw the secret poll — the public’s mood about the council has yet to fully recover.

This, along with democracy vouchers, explains the 55 people lining up to run for council seats.

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8 years of polls show Seattle council’s downward popularity slide