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Monday, November 18, 2019

Newcomers Versus Old-Timers: Recipe For New Political Alignment?

Crosscut Pollster Stuart Elway has some interesting results and observations about the shifting Seattle electorate. Bottom line: it’s a slow change, in part because newcomers don’t vote that much nor follow city politics closely.

Elway divides his recent poll among Newcomers (here less than 10 years), Settlers (10-20 years), and Old-Timers (more than 20 years in town). Some examples: Only 9 percent of Newcomers follow city hall closely, compared to 24 percent of Old-Timers. And yet the negative rating for city council is -15 percent spread for Newcomers and -53 percent for Old-Timers. One could conclude that Newcomers are less informed and more content with the status quo than long-time Seattleites.

Of course, the wave of Newcomers is extensive and growing. Seattle is growing at an annual rate of 2.5 percent since 2010, and 30 percent of that growth is foreign-born. I would suspect that for the foreign-born, coming to Seattle means a rewarding tech job and an improvement in civic transparency.

The discontents are the longer-in-towns, who may resent the passing of the old Seattle (Boeing jobs, bungalows, and mobility). The current political showdown over Seattle’s direction and its city council will likely be decided by how unhappy the Old-Timers are with all the change (and hence vote in numbers) and how well change-candidates are able to turn out infrequent younger voters. I still think we’ll end up with a divided city council, with a 5-4 majority for the Leftists. That said, the new council will have as many as three novices, which will swing the balance of power to Mayor Jenny Durkan, a wobbly centrist.

Photo by Benjamin Massello on Unsplash

David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. It would be good throw in the civic leadership, experience, competence and mostly collegial approach of the council of a couple of decades ago. Rather than bemoaning the changes in Seattle or questioning a single position these longer time Seattleites might just want councilmanic excellence.

  2. In order to assess Elway’s findings about “newcomers,” I’d want to know the age differences between his three cohorts, which may explain most if not all of the differences. The recently arrived tend to be younger, particularly compared to those who have already bee here for more than 20 years (for obvious reasons).

    The biggest fault line of Seattle politics is over age, with voters under 50 being much more strongly supportive of the more adversarial left activist types who currently dominate the Council, and those over 50 much more supportive of consensus-oriented mainstream progressives.

  3. “I still think we’ll end up with a divided city council, with a 5-4 majority for the Leftists.

    Where do you count Debora Juarez in your prediction? She will definitely win re-election and she is backed by both CASE and The Stranger. Both business and the left seem to like her.

  4. Juarez is part of the pragmatist wing, though she can be unpredictable. I’m sure the Stranger endorsement was because Juarez’s opponent is quite conservative. Juarez has made it clear that this will be her last term. She lost the Seattle Times endorsement by making clear she is eyeing the exit door.


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