Seattle’s 2021 election establishes large, late swings for progressive candidates as new normal
In 2019, many were stunned when Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant turned an eight-point election night deficit into a four-point win over the course of a single week. Now, similar shifts for progressive candidates appear to have become the new normal in Seattle.
Sawant’s 2019 victory ultimately saw her pull off a 12 percentage point swing by the time all the votes were counted. While District 4 council candidate Shaun Scott didn’t end up winning his own race, he made up 13 points, turning a 17-point election night deficit into a much closer four-point loss.
In the two years since, the prevailing theory explaining that phenomena has been a simple one: Seattle’s older, moderate, and conservative voters tend to turn in their ballots earlier, thus allowing their votes to be counted first. Conversely, younger progressive voters turn their ballots in closer to (or directly on) Election Day, leaving their votes to be counted in the final tallies.
The 2021 election further appeared to solidify that trend, with large-scale percentage swings occurring across virtually every major Seattle race.
On election night, moderate candidates like Bruce Harrell, Ann Davison, and Sara Nelson had all jumped out to massive leads over their more progressive challengers. For Harrell, that came in the form of a commanding 30-point advantage in the initial tally, while Nelson and Davison grabbed 20- and 17-point leads, respectively.
By the final large tally the following Monday, all three moderate candidates managed to hold on long enough to win their races, albeit with significantly smaller margins. Harrell’s 30-point lead eventually dropped down to a still-sizable but notably slimmer 18 points. Nelson ended up prevailing by eight points, while Davison’s lead was cut all the way down to four points.
When it was all said and done, all three moderates saw percentage swings between 12 and 13 points, representing nearly identical levels to the ground made up by Sawant and Scott in 2019. That’s also despite the fact that 2021 was a citywide election, while 2019 was broken up across individual council districts.
Moving forward, future elections may very well continue to prove that a moderate or conservative Seattle candidate with a 13-point election night lead is ticketed for a photo finish.