How I-594 Bridged the Urban-Suburban Divide

The progressive statewide gun control initiative managed to leap partisan bounds
| Updated: November 27, 2018

A bipartisan legislature in Olympia couldn't get background checks passed, but bipartisan agreement among the people finally did.

Washington's successful gun control ballot measure (I-594), which requires background checks on all gun sales, was enthusiastically supported by liberals, but it passed last November with strong support from some traditional Republican voting areas.

Benjamin Anderstone, Seattle political consultant, has been taking a detailed look at the vote statewide and finds that I-594 bridged the urban-suburban divide. Seattle went for it big time, with 88% voting yes. Some Eastside suburban cities, which have trended blue in recent years, did too, with 75% in Redmond, 73% in Kirkland, and 76% in Bellevue. Bellevue, by the way, is headquarters for pro-gun advocate Alan Gottlieb who crafted the failed competing initiative, I-591, which would have negated state background checks. He must be feeling a tad isolated when he goes to the office these days.

More surprising is that the measure did well in places like reliably Republican Sammamish where Anderstone says I-594 got 72% of the yes vote. This is Dino Rossi-Rob McKenna country. Anderstone says that country club-type precincts around the state consistently broke in favor of background checks. "It did extremely well with suburban, upscale Republicans," he says. He also notes that in precincts with large numbers of senior citizens and military families, the measure also did very well, even though these trend more conservative in other races. "Senior support drove this initiative," he says, with retirement-heavy communities coming in at 76%.

Ben Anderstone's map of the vote in King County. Green is pro-I-594, fading to redish where the no votes prevailed

In that light, the endorsement of elder statesman and former GOP governor Dan Evans, mostly likely unknown to younger, newer voters, was probably a coup for the initiative campaign.

Opposition was highest in rural areas. Support faded in east King County for example. Towns like the remote Kettle Falls had the no vote at 68%, conservative bastions like Lynden were at 62%. He attributes the split among Republicans as being between those who are more affluent and those for whom guns are part of daily life.

Anderstone also notes that some traditionally Democratic small, rural towns voted no, such as Gold Bar and Granite Falls in Snohomish county, McCleary in Grays Harbor county, and Bucoda in Thurston county. It wasn't a matter of social conservatism because these towns voted more liberally on legalized pot and same-sex marriage. "If you're from an area where hunting is ubiquitous, and government regulation is mainly a lifestyle impediment, there's a good chance you voted no even if you're a Democrat," says Anderstone.

When was the last time a statewide initiative drew support that leaped partisan bounds like this? Anderstone says the closest comparable was probably I-1000 in 2008, the Death with Dignity initiative which passed with nearly 60% of the statewide vote. It too received support broad support that defied party affiliations and drew votes from affluent Republicans and senior citizens.

Progressive statewide initiatives can work if can they find that electoral sweet spot.