Elway Poll: Education is top legislative concern of Washington voters; taxes come in No. 2, highest level in 20 years

The Washington Legislature convenes next week. A new Elway Poll reveals what’s on voters’ minds as the session approaches. Education and taxes top the list.

For the fourth straight year, Elway Poll respondents named education-related issues as the “most important issues the legislature should focus on.”

There does seem to be recognition of progress. Education is not the dominant issue that is has been in recent years. One in three (32%) respondents volunteered an education issue—down from nearly half last year (45%). Half of that 32% speci ied education funding as their top concern.

Taxes joined education near the top of the priority list this year. “Taxes” is always on the list, but the 27% this year is the highest mention of taxes since 1997.

The economy (26%), social services (21%), and transportation (19%) round out the top 5. 

Expectations, Elway reports, are low:

Most voters did not expect the legislature to make “signifiicant progress” on the issues they had named as most important. Overall, 37% thought there would be progress on the issue they considered to be most important.

In a short, election-year session, low expectations would seem to be both appropriate and realistic. Seattle Times editorial writer Melissa Santos makes a similar case. While Democrats and Republicans had some different views on priorities, there was, Elway writes, more agreement than some might anticipate.

As expected, Democrats and Republicans had somewhat different priorities. Democrats ranked education #1, where Republicans named taxes. Perhaps less expected, three issues were ranked in the top ive by both Democrats and Republicans, as well as by Independents: education, the economy and taxes.

Another recently released Elway Poll examines voter outlook, finding an uptick in optimism and a more pronounced partisan divide.

Compared to last July, voters were slightly more optimistic about the country, the state, their community and their household. That combination resulted the irst increase in the Voter Outlook Index since before the 2016 election…

  • 87% of Republicans said things would get better in the county; while

    73% of Democrats said things would get worse.

  • 84% of Republicans said things were looking better for their household; vs.

    56% of Democrats.

  • They agreed on the outlook for the state:

    56% of Republicans thought things would get better in the state over the next year or so;

    57% of Democrats agreed.

Knute Berger, writing in Crosscut, reports on the geographic split the poll reveals:

Elway also thinks that while geography matters, the so-called Cascade Divide isn’t quite an accurate description of differences within Washington. The biggest division is really between the 206 area code and the rest of the state. Elway says the least positive people in the state are in Seattle where only 35 percent felt positive about prospects for their country and 44 percent for their community, whereas people in Eastern Washington were the most positive at 60 percent for the nation and 71 percent for their community.

Berger also notes the challenge in interpreting the poll results on taxes.

Elway can’t say exactly why taxes are a greater focus for 2018, but the concerns are apparently shared widely around the state. In fact, liberal Seattle and conservative Eastern Washington are in agreement: 28 percent of Seattleites say taxes are a top priority, as do 26 percent of those east of the Cascades. Growing tax fatigue could be part of it, but for Seattleites, so is frustration with the state’s regressive tax system. Many Democrats would like a more progressive or at least a less regressive tax system.

Our bet is we’ll hear more about all this in the coming weeks. And we’re keeping our expectations in check.