Traci McGivern has occasionally voted for Republicans.
Not this time.
Like many Washington voters surveyed this month in a new statewide poll, McGivern says the most important issue to her in the Nov. 8 election is abortion. She trusts Democrats more on that issue, which she says has grown more urgent since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the constitutional right to abortion at the national level.
“We simply want the time and the right to choose,” said the 45-year-old, who tends a small farm in Wenatchee.
When asked about a dozen issues in the latest WA Poll sponsored by The Seattle Times and partners, 26% of likely voters selected abortion as most important to them, and 22% selected inflation, making those the most popular picks by a wide margin. None of the other issues, such as border security, crime and climate change, were selected by more than 10% of respondents.
“The price of everything in my life has gone up,” said respondent Carol Kujawa, an Everett retiree voting for Republicans partly because she’s angry about inflation, including high gas prices. “It’s mind-boggling.”
The poll included responses from 589 likely voters contacted by SurveyUSA between Oct. 14 and 19, with a credibility interval of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Abortion held sway among self-identified Democrats, whereas inflation did among Republicans and independents.
That jibes with the political landscape: Democratic candidates like U.S. Sen. Patty Murray are campaigning across Washington on promises to protect abortion rights, while Republican candidates like Murray’s challenger, Tiffany Smiley, are wooing voters by blaming price increases on the liberals who hold power in Washington, D.C., and Olympia.
In the WA Poll, 51% of likely voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports federal restrictions on abortion, while 22% said they would be more likely. The others said they didn’t care or didn’t know.
“Abortion is definitely on the ballot,” said Mack Smith, communications manager for the Planned Parenthood affiliate that includes Washington.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Smith added, alluding to proposals like a bill introduced last month by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Federal restrictions would affect Washington, despite laws that allow abortion here and Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement last week that Democrats will seek a state constitutional amendment. President Joe Biden has promised to pursue a bill that would enshrine abortion rights nationally.
Republicans attribute the high interest in abortion among poll respondents partly to nonstop political messaging. They say Democrats are spreading exaggerated alarm to distract from other issues.
“I feel like the abortion issue has been blown up way bigger than it is,” said Julie Barrett, founder of the Conservative Ladies of Washington, suggesting Graham’s bill is unlikely to pass and Washington’s protections stand no chance of being overturned anytime soon.
Heading into the election, Democrats control the state Senate by seven seats and the state House by 16 seats. Inslee is a Democrat.
A previous WA Poll, conducted before the Aug. 2 primary election, yielded similar results with regard to top issues. But the percentage of respondents who selected abortion in the new survey is 2 percentage points lower and the percentage who selected inflation is 2 percentage points higher.
In the latest edition of the poll, women, urban and younger voters were more likely to select abortion as most important.
That doesn’t surprise respondent Shelley Becknell, 56, who volunteered with a reproductive rights organization when she was younger, during another period when some politicians were trying to restrict abortions.
“To me, it was about men wanting to make the rules for women,” said Becknell, a Seattle tech worker who’s worried about restrictions causing a health care crisis and who’s voting for Democrats, including Murray. “Never ever did I think we would be back to ‘square one’ here in 2022.”
Abortion is less important to Kujawa in Everett, but she’s taking the issue into account, nonetheless. The 73-year-old opposes abortion, exception in cases of rape or incest, or to save a mother. She’s voting for Smiley partly because she worries that Democrats want to enshrine abortion rights in federal law.
“I don’t believe abortion should be used as birth control,” Kujawa said. “If you don’t want to have children, you have every possible way to avoid it.”
Murray has made abortion a centerpiece of her campaign since the Supreme Court ruling, saying a larger Democratic majority in the Senate could pave the way for new legislation. Smiley says she’s “pro-life” but would vote against a federal abortion ban. Murray has warned voters about that stance, contending Smiley knows she can’t win the state “unless she says that.”
Neither Becknell nor Kujawa live in a super-competitive congressional district. But McGivern in Wenatchee will help decide whether U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat, keeps her seat in a purple district that stretches from parts of King and Pierce counties over the mountains to Chelan and Kittitas counties.
Republican challenger Matt Larkin, who called the Supreme Court ruling “a victory for life,” has said he would not be opposed to federal legislation restricting abortions, though he would “want to see the specifics of the ban.”
Republicans hope to attract even pro-abortion rights voters on other issues, like inflation, says Caleb Heimlich, who chairs the Washington State Republican Party. In the WA Poll, men were more likely to select inflation as most important, as were suburban and younger voters.
Democrats in Congress voted for federal spending last year that “fed the fires” of inflation, Heimlich asserted, and Democrats in the Legislature declined last session to pass temporary sales or gas tax cuts for consumers, despite a budget surplus they could have drawn money from, he said.
“They certainly did not prioritize mitigation,” he said. “They could have helped people filling up the minivan or pickup truck, and they chose not to.”
Blaming Democrats for inflation is misleading, said Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, citing COVID-19, worldwide supply-chain challenges and the war in Ukraine as causes, with corporate consolidation also involved.
“We’ve got the lowest unemployment in decades” under Biden, she said.
Meanwhile, Republicans have voted at various levels against lowering prescription drug prices, child care tax credits and legislation meant to halt price gouging by oil companies that are scoring record profits, Podlodowski said, arguing a gas-tax pause might not have actually reduced prices.
The debate can be bewildering for voters, said WA Poll respondent Jennifer Schrader, a Whidbey Island household manager. Schrader, 39, is paying more this year for gas, groceries and even cat treats.
“I don’t know who to blame,” she said. “And if I tried to Google it, it would be even more confusing. There are 50 answers out there.”
The U.S. Supreme Court
The WA Poll was sponsored by The Seattle Times, KING 5, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public and Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication.
Among 875 adults, 55% said the Supreme Court is out of touch with the values and beliefs of most Americans, while 24% said the court is in touch and 21% weren’t sure (with a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points).
More Democrats and independents sided against the court, while more Republicans expressed support. Respondents 65 and older were most likely to consider the court out of touch.
“Clearly, [the court’s] overturning of abortion rights has struck a nerve,” said respondent Frank Loulan, 70, a retiree in Bellingham also concerned about a ruling in June that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public.
Responding to the court’s progression rightward, some Democrats have advocated expanding the number of justices. Biden last year established a bipartisan commission to study that and other possible changes.
Loulan, for one, isn’t in favor of expanding the court. Democrats won’t be in power forever, he said, and then Republicans could use it to their advantage.
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