Elway Poll takes a deeper look at the “urban-rural divide.” While there are key differences, the nuances are important.

A new edition of The Elway Poll examines differences in how residents of the state’s urban and rural communities view politics and policy. Here’s how pollster Stuart Elway frames the analysis.

The “Cascade Curtain” has been a mainstay of political punditry in Washington state for decades. Republican on the dry side of the Cascade range, Democratic on the wet side. The stereotype has never been quite as accurate as it has been fun and convenient. There have been Democrats and Republicans elected from both sides of the mountains since statehood – clear evidence of Republican and Democratic voters all over the state. But the meme has persisted.

He writes that the 2016 election “tore a hole” in the curtain, prompting an analysis of the urban-rural divide in Washington, one that parallels the national analysis. We’ve written of the policy implications previously. The prosperity divide between metropolitan Seattle and rural Washington remains a significant concern, one recently highlighted in the Association of Washington Business Rural Jobs Summit. Stateline has reported on the growing tensions nationally between urban centers and state legislatures.

While no single poll can definitively capture the nature of the divisions or predict their consequences, the short (4-page) Elway analysis is interesting and informative. 

The topics explored in this survey are fundamental attitudes, not specific policies. This was done to bring philosophical contrasts into high relief, not competing policy proposals.

As in April, the indings reveal deep divisions between Republican and Democrat partisans, which play out differently in different areas of the state. Eastern Washington is still mostly red and Seattle is still deep blue. Elsewhere, where the parties are in closer balance, political issues are more open for debate. These are the “swing” districts that will determine the power balance in the legislature until the 2020 census results in new district boundaries.

Three of the eight issues were widely agreed upon:

  • Dissatisfaction with the direction of the country – although that is really an agreement to disagree, because there are quite different ideas about what a satisfactory direction would be. Notably, voters in Trump districts were more likely to be dissatisfied than voters in Clinton districts (73% v. 62%).

  • By a ratio of 6:1, most said government does more to help peo- ple “in and around large cities” than it does to help “people in rural areas and small towns.” Trump district voters were more likely than Clinton district voters to say that (70% v. 59%).

  • Most voters agreed that the US economy was not fair to people like them, but that is where the unity ended:

    •  Most Clinton district voters said that the economy favored the rich, while

    • Trump district voters were much less likely to agree and more likely to say that the economy was fair to people like them.

Read more in the poll. In Crosscut, Knute Berger reports on some of the political implications.

Elway’s polling broke down a difference of opinion based on where people lived — city, suburb, small town, etc. On issues such as economic fairness, guns, social justice, race and poverty, suburban voters felt as passionately as, or more strongly than, big city dwellers and Democratic voters. Suburban majorities felt the economy was unfairly skewed in favor of the rich and powerful (55 percent), that controlling gun violence was a priority over gun owner rights (56 percent), that racial discrimination is the main reason racial minorities can’t get ahead (59 percent) and that poverty is more often caused by circumstances beyond a person’s control (68 percent).

…Conclusion: Suburban voters could be a force in swing districts; they are closer to urban voters than to exurban or rural voters in their views.

Our focus remains on promoting policies that expand economic opportunity across the state. Bridging the opportunity divide by spurring rural job creation, reducing academic achievement gaps, and investing in essential infrastructure is vital to our state’s long-term success.