New Poll: Harrell With Strong Lead, Plus Some Surprises


Bruce Harrell has moved out to a 16-point lead over Lorena Gonzalez in a hard-fought, consequential contest for Mayor of Seattle, according to a new poll conducted for the Northwest Progressive Institute by California-based Change Research.

Harrell is the choice of 48 percent of those surveyed, with Gonzalez trailing at 32 percent, 18 percent undecided and 2 percent not voting.  The poll, with a margin of error of plus/minus 4.1 percent, contacted 617 Seattle voters, almost all of whom intend to mail in ballots. A pre-primary poll by Change Research in July showed Harrell with a 20-12 percent lead over Gonzalez, accurately predicting the November finalists but not how close they finished.

The poll showed that attorney Anne Davison has moved out to a substantial lead over Nicole Thomas-Kennedy in the contest for Seattle City Attorney.  It found Davison at 43 percent, with Thomas-Kennedy trailing at 24 percent. NTK has apparently suffered a backlash over her incendiary Tweets containing such phrases as “my rabid hatred of the police.”

In a hot citywide contest for the Seattle City Council seat being vacated by Gonzalez, former Council aide and Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson is at 41 percent of the vote, with attorney-poet-activist Nikkita Oliver narrowly behind at 37 percent. Twenty-one percent of voters have not decided who to support.

Incumbent Teresa Mosqueda leads in the second at-large Council race, but only by a 39-31 percent margin over structural engineer Kenneth Wilson, a surprise primary runner-up who spent almost no money on his campaign. Mosqueda has been considered an overwhelming favorite to win reelection, and someone seen as a future candidate for Congress.

The NPI poll has a track record. Change Research was early to report, almost three months ago, that incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes was in danger of being squeezed out in the primary. So it came to be, in an election that saw The Seattle Times endorse Davison with a furious blast at Holmes, while The Stranger backed Thomas-Kennedy.  The earlier NPI poll also predicted a tight race between Nelson and Oliver. Change Research did not poll on countywide contests for King County Executive and the Seattle Port Commission.

The poll’s breakdowns are striking, said Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute. A nonprofit known for its opposition to initiative mercenary Tim Eyman, NPI has taken to sponsoring quality polls. Its statewide survey last year predicted that the sex education program in Washington’s public schools would easily beat back a referendum challenge. It found that Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal was in political trouble, but then Democrats gave him a boost.

In the new poll’s matchup between two veterans of the Seattle City Council, two-thirds of voters over 65 pick Harrell, while Gonzalez holds a 49-30 percent advantage among under-30 voters. Gonzalez is narrowly ahead among those aged 30 to 49, while Harrell has an advantage with voters aged 50 to 64. The Gonzalez campaign seems to be directing its energy toward a high turnout among young supporters and the city’s activist left. “Voters of color prefer Harrell by a 56-36 (percent) margin, while Lorena actually does better among white voters,” said Villeneuve.

The Nelson-Oliver contest shows a similar age gap. Nelson enjoys a two-to-one lead among older voters, while Oliver – a compelling speaker before youth audiences – leads among voters under 30.

Late arriving ballots from younger voters have trended left and tipped recent Seattle elections. Socialist Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant trailed incumbent Richard Conlin by eight points on election night in 2013 but late vote tallies sent Conlin into retirement. Sawant staged a similar post-election day comeback against challenger Egan Orion in 2019.

“I have never seen a gap this large overturned [in late ballots],” said Villeneuve, speaking of Harrell’s lead in the poll.

Two polls in September agreed on Harrell’s being in the lead but showed narrower contests. A KOMO-TV-Strategies 360 survey of 450 registered Seattle voters had Harrell at 40 percent with Gonzalez at 33 percent. The poll also showed that Seattle voters, by a two-to-one margin, have an unfavorable view of the Seattle City Council. Gonzalez is currently Council president, succeeding Harrell in that role.

The KOMO-Strategies 360 poll found Davison with a 19-16 percent lead over Thomas-Kennedy with a whopping 65 percent “completely” undecided. But that was before an independent expenditure group called Seattle for Common Sense started mailing out collections of NTK’s greatest-hit Tweets bearing such statements as: “Property destruction is a moral imperative.”

A Crosscut-Elway survey of 400 likely Seattle voters gave Harrell a 42-27 percent lead over Gonzalez, with nearly a quarter of voters remaining undecided.  It found Nelson leading Oliver 31-26 percent, but with 34 percent undecided. Davison was ahead of Thomas-Kennedy, 26 percent to 22 percent, with 45 percent not having made up their minds.

A poll is a snapshot in time, and Seattle voters are known for delivering surprises.  Incumbent Mayors Paul Schell and Greg Nickels, running for reelection, did not make it out of their primaries. Conventional wisdom can also take a licking, as in the presumed power of an endorsement by The Stranger, at least in the primary election. In the general election more moderate voters turn out in significant numbers. , If Harrell wins, it will be the third consecutive defeat for a Stranger-endorsed candidate in an election for Mayor of Seattle.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. What’s funny is that this time around the Stranger, keenly aware that their candidates were trounced in the last two mayoral races, explicitly set out on a mission to endorse the most “electable” left lane candidate. And yet – bless their politically clueless, activist radical hearts — they thought and schemed themselves into endorsing the weakest of the left lane candidates.

    They made the cardinal polarized left activist mistake of assuming that a majority of Seattle voters see politics through the same lens that they do, and therefore are chomping at the bit for an ideological warrior as their next mayor. So they anointed Lorena Gonzalez, with all her City Council baggage, when either Colleen Echohawk or Jessyn Farrell would have been stronger, more broadly appealing general election candidates. And then (of course) Gonzalez’s strategically inept campaign rewarded then by running a general election effort entirely focused on energizing the Twitter left actirad base, a la Cary Moon in 2017. It’s like Team Gonzalez has no clue what the majority of actual Seattle voters are thinking — despite having spent more than $100,000(!!!) on three polls and two focus groups of research.

    Same approach, and very likely the same result in a couple of weeks. Assuming Bruce does win, it’s going to be hard for the Stranger to escape the tag of “three-time loser.” Also, if Davison wins they are never going to live down their disastrous endorsement of NTK.

    • Sandeep, because you were the political director there, I deeply appreciate hearing your opinions about your former employer, The Stranger.

      Let’s also ponder what the repercussions might be for the state and local Democratic Party organizations, which went all-in on endorsing these far-Left candidates. Tina Podlodowski, Chair of the Washington State Democrats, double-downed on her support of Nicole Thomas Kennedy, despite all the disastrous tweets and horrible justifications for the hatred. To make things worse, when Tina was confronted with evidence that NTKs campaign manager had used misogynistic and racist tweets ( Podlodowski triple-downed her support of NTK.

      The Democratic Party organizations aren’t the only ones that have yoked their ox to bad candidates. As Joel Connelly pointed out in a recent Post Alley column (, their ox is going to get gored.

      How badly will this impact midterms? Can rank-and-file voters trust the endorsement of Democratic Party organizations? Of environmental groups? Will long-time donors to those entities find other ways to support mainstream, sensible candidates?

      • To be precise, for three years I was a Stranger staff writer (who wrote mostly about national politics), not the political director. And that was a long time ago now — I left in June 2005 (shit, writing that reminds me that I am getting old).

        I should also caution that I have been involved with Seattle politics long enough to be appropriately wary about predetermining the outcome of this election. There is some real uncertainty here — demographically, who turns out really matters. If the turnout profile resembles 2019 as opposed to 2017 (the last mayoral race), that would shift the numbers towards the left activists. All of that said, when I look at the research, the fundamentals of this election — historically bad right track/wrong track numbers, the City Council approval rating plunging into the high 20s — this seems like more likely than not it shaping up be a repudiation of the movement left actirad status quo, so the NPI numbers yesterday make a lot of sense.

        But all of those caveats, aside, you are raising some good questions. It seems to me that much of the chattering class and media punditocracy has bought into the false assumption that the Seattle electorate has shifted significantly left over the last five years. The reality is more nuanced and complicated than that. Modprog voters, the moderate progressive center of the electorate (roughly 40 percent of voters), has stayed about where it was ideologically in 2013 and 2017. It’s the activist radicals, the Actirads (who constitute perhaps 35 percent of the electorate), who have moved sharply left in recent years, turning what was a clear divide between Modprogs and Actirads and into a yawning political chasm. (The other 20-25 percent of the electorate comprise the Dying Doors, which is my awkward amalgam of “Seattle is Dying” and NextDoor — these voters find Modprog candidates like Harrell to be too far left but will hold their noses and vote for them because the Actirad alternatives scare the bejesus out of them).

        As the Actirads, increasingly self-segregated in a perpetual Left Twitter circle jerk, have sprinted left into some truly extreme ideological positions (abolition, extreme cultural cosmopolitanism, radical permissiveness of anti-social behaviors), they’ve taken much of the city’s movement progressive machinery with them, including the Dem LDs, the non-profit community, the public sector bureaucracy, and much of Labor and the media too. They’ve left increasingly frustrated and confused Modprog voters (who are disproportionately voters of color) — who deeply resent being denounced by the Actirads (who are disproportionately white) as right-wing reactionaries and racists for expressing their sense that the City’s current policies aren’t working — far behind.

        So if this election goes the way I’m hoping it does (knock on wood), it will be interesting to see how the movement progressive establishment will react. Will they realize their error and recalibrate ideologically, moving back towards the progressive center where Seattle elections are won? Or will they continue down the pathway of ideological purity and alientation from the cultural and political mainstream of Seattle? Short answer is, I don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to find out.

  2. There are risks for front-runners in polls showing wide margins–their solid supporters may skip voting if they’re busy, and their marginal supporters may feel it’s safe to vote for the other candidate as a “protest” vote to keep the front-runner from winning too big a mandate. In combination, these can contribute to a tighter race than the polls predict. So ignore the polls, vote, and vote for who you really want most in office.

  3. The moderate progressives Sandeep describes may have voter appeal but they lack strong candidates, new ideas, and organizational strength. That’s why so much of the passion, energy, and supporting institutions of the liberal/radical persuasion now dominate Seattle politics and drive things to the left and to the young. It used to be that the candidate who united Big Labor, Big Business, Big Government, and Big Green would dominate mayor’s races (as happened with Ed Murray, Jenny Durkan, and Greg Nickels. But these days Big Business doesn’t have a good game plan and is deeply distrusted by the Left; meanwhile the other Biggies have swung to the woke left. The moderates will be outmaneuvered by the city council majority until they either find a strong leader or recreate organizations that develop farm teams and appealing ideas.

    • Do moderates lack answers because they’re dull witted, or are we at a stage where there aren’t realistic answers, and the field belongs to the struggle between ideological fantasies?

      Seattle is quite the success, isn’t it? It’s almost like the top of the heap isn’t such a good place to be.

  4. One point missing: The electoral reach of the activist radicals (“actirads”) does not go far beyond a few Seattle neighborhoods and Democratic district organizations. Just look at its failures on election day.
    –Bernie Sanders has twice lost Washington primaries despite his noisy base of support. Hillary Clinton bested Bernie in the 2016 beauty contest, while Joe Biden spent something like $600 in the state and came out on top.
    –Rep. Pramila Jayapal deployed resources of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on behalf of Beth Doglio in the all-Democrat race for the vacant 10th U.S. House seat, centered in the South Sound. Marilyn Strickland won by a margin of nearly 47,000 votes.
    –Far-left challengers emerged to U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Rick Larsen, D-Wash., in last year’s primary. Kilmer received 123,900 votes to 35,150 for left challenger Rebecca Parson. Larsen piled up 117,200 votes to 33,700 for the contentious Jason Call.
    (Both challengers took time off from campaigning on the Peninsula and in NW Washington, to declare their enchangment with the Capitol Hill autonomous zone.)
    –A far-left, military-hating challenger made the 2018 finals in the 9th Congressional district. Rep. Adam Smith took 163,345 votes to 77,222 for Sarah Smith.
    The message: Mainstream progressives win Washington elections.

    .ion. ht

  5. The Lorena Gonzalez campaign sure won’t close 20-plus point poll deficit among voters of color by airing a TV spot accusing Bruce Harrell, of African- and Japanese-American lineage, of being blind to sexual assault.
    A lot of people know Bruce as product of Garfield High and UW, the linebacker with the Dawgs who chose law school rather than NFL, and as public servant. I know there is wide pride in what he has accomplished.
    I’d go further. The ad shows that it’s the activist left which, by this ad, is pushing dog whistle stereotypes about an African-American guy, and showing a tin ear toward racial sensitivity.

    • I agree with that, though it’s worth pointing out that – like a lot of things in latter day local movement left politics – that ad is not intended to win over voters of color. Rather, it’s pretty obviously pitched at pressing the buttons white left/woke voters, and turning them against Bruce.

    • Yes, it does, and nothing good. They’ve gone through the looking glass. In terms of norms of behavior and systems of thought, Seattle white wokery is a complete mess.

  6. My wife and I put two Harrell votes in the box today, mostly out of disgust at Gonzalez’s highly negative ads. Then tonight I saw a new, and equally negative, Gonzalez ad and was so glad that I had voted for Harrell. In her desperation to win, Gonzalez is shooting herself in the foot.


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