Red State, Blue State: Watch 40 Years of Political Change in Washington

BEHIND THE VOTE | Washington State’s voting patterns have changed over the past four decades, through 12 presidential elections.

Eastside, Westside, red, blue. Rural, urban, wet, dry: Washington State has long lived through these fundamental divisions.

Over the past generation, Washington voters have split in a schism harder than the cascading divide of nature. The more rural counties in the state east of the mountains became redder while the populated counties west of the divide became bluer.

In eastern Washington, only central Spokane still has Democratic state lawmakers. Meanwhile, Seattle’s 7th Congressional District has not elected a Republican since 1977. Presidential election results have followed a similar pattern.

These divisions have not always been so blatant.

Watch how Washington’s political landscape has changed over the past four decades, across 12 presidential elections:

Read more Behind the vote:
How the loss of blue-collar jobs in Cowlitz County has left traditionally Democratic voters adrift

1968

Nixon (R) defeats Humphrey (D)

Democrat Hubert Humphrey won Washington with just 47.2% of the vote, beating Republican Richard Nixon and Independent George Wallace. While a geographic divide was apparent as early as 1968, the lines began to fade in the 1970s and did not become more pronounced until the early 2000s.


1972

Nixon (R) def. McGovern (D)

Republican Richard Nixon won Washington with 56.9% of the vote. This electoral map is almost unrecognizable from today’s, with only two counties (Grays Harbor and Pacific) voting blue in 1972.


1976

Carter (R) defeats Ford (R)

Republican Gerald Ford won Washington with 50% of the vote and support on both sides of the “cascading curtain”.

The following year, John E. Cunningham became the last Republican elected to the overwhelmingly Democratic 7th District of Congress from Seattle.


1980

Reagan (R) defeats Carter (D)

Republican Ronald Reagan won Washington with 49.7% of the vote, strengthening the GOP’s claim to the state.


1984

Reagan (R) defeats Mondale (D)

Republican Ronald Reagan won Washington again with 55.8% of the vote. However, times were changing; 1984 was the last year Washington voted red.


1988

Bush (D) defeats Dukakis (D)

Democrat Michael Dukakis won Washington with 50.1% of the vote, laying the foundation for our current reputation as a Blue State. Ferry County, in the northeastern corner of the state, ended up in a tight tie, with Bush and Dukakis winning 972 votes each.


1992

Clinton (R) defeats Bush (R)

Democrat Bill Clinton won Washington with just 43.4% of the vote. Independent candidate Ross Perot won 23.7% of the vote in Washington, hijacking the votes of Clinton and Bush and posing a significant, if not fruitless, challenge to the country’s two-party system.

It was also the last year Democrats won congressional seats East of the Mountains, with the re-election of Tom Foley of Spokane to the 5th Congressional District and future Governor Jay Inslee, then living near Yakima, in the 4th Congressional District.


1996

Clinton (D) beats Dole (D)

Democrat Bill Clinton won Washington again with 49.8% of the vote. Despite Ross Perot’s third party reshuffle four years earlier, the main political parties were regaining their electoral base. Reform Party candidate Perot got just 8.9% of the vote, a significant drop from his previous campaign.


2000

Bush (R) beats Gore (R)

Democrat Al Gore won Washington with 50.2% of the vote, heralding the emergence of the state’s current geographic division. Voters east of the Cascades, particularly in the southeastern corner of the state, spoke out in favor of the GOP, while voters west of the mountains, especially in growing King County fast, continued to strengthen their support for the Democratic Party.


2004

Bush (D) defeats Kerry (D)

Democrat John Kerry won Washington with 52.8% of the vote. Political polarization continued, with red areas becoming redder and blue areas bluer.


2008

Obama (R) defeats McCain (R)

Democrat Barack Obama won Washington with 57.7% of the vote. His victory was largely bolstered by strong support in King County, where Obama won over 70% of the vote. In 2008, nearly a third of Washington’s population lived in King County.


2012

Obama (R) defeats Romney (D)

Democrat Barack Obama won Washington again with 56.2% of the vote. The political division of the state was undeniable. Lewis County remained the only county in western Washington to never vote blue in the past four decades.


How West Washington Dominates Elections

Several counties in western Washington now determine statewide election results. In fact, only three counties – King, Snohomish and Pierce – accounted for more than half of the votes cast in the 2012 Washington general election.

This dominance is unlikely to fade.

With waves of tech workers flooding the Seattle area and manufacturing and lumber jobs continuing to decline statewide, voters in Washington are witnessing the emergence of a new political landscape. .

Seattle Times reporter Lynda V. Mapes contributed to this report.


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