For a column I wrote back during the 2016 presidential primaries, I interviewed a few people who belonged to a very small minority: Seattle residents who donated money to Donald Trump.
One of them was a man who surprisingly described himself as progressive (he also contributed to the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders). Of course, I asked him why he supported Trump.
“I like Trump because he will [expletive] destroy the Republican Party, ”he told me.
He could have been right.
I don’t need to cover all of the political weirdness that has happened since the November elections. Suffice it to say that the Democrats now have presidency and control of both the House and Senate for the first time in a decade, while Republican leadership is deeply divided over the future of the party and Trump’s role in it.
Seattle has long been a Democratic stronghold, of course. You may have thought that even four years of Donald Trump’s life couldn’t make this area bluer than it already was.
You would be wrong.
New party affiliation survey data shows that the number of self-identified Democrats in Counties King and Snohomish rose 31% from 2016 to 2020 – more than three times faster than overall population growth (9%).
Data from market research giant Nielsen shows that around 913,000 adults in our region will identify as Democrats in 2020, up from 699,000 in 2016.
Where did they all come from?
The market research data doesn’t tell us. But there is other data that shows how politics play a role in making people decide where to go. A recent study of county-to-county migration patterns shows that people tend to move to places where they feel politically at home. It also showed that counties that are already extremely partisan – for example King County – are becoming magnets for such moving companies.
The Seattle area, of course, saw tremendous growth in the 2010s. It is likely that a disproportionately high percentage of newcomers are politically liberal.
And as this area has become increasingly democratic, it is also possible that a higher percentage of Conservatives have moved elsewhere. Research data shows that the median age for Republicans in the Seattle area is significantly higher than that of Democrats or Independents. Because retirement is one of the most important life changes that makes a big leap, it is possible that many conservative retirees will leave this area.
Could the numbers also reflect some local Republicans switching parties? It is certainly possible as we have seen a growing number of high profile defects – the so-called “Never Trumpers”.
In addition to the more than 900,000 Democrats in our region, there are 459,000 adults who consider themselves independent but turn to Democrats. That adds up to nearly 1.4 million who are either Democrats or lean Democrats, and it represents a solid majority (56%) of the total adult population in Counties King and Snohomish.
And that’s more than double the Republican population.
Approximately 306,000 adults in the two counties identify as Republicans. Add to that another 235,000 Independents who oppose Republicans, and that adds up to 540,000 adults who are either Republicans or slim Republicans – just 22% of the total adult population here. (Before Trump, they made up a slightly higher percentage at 24%.)
True Independents – those who lean neither left nor right – make up about 211,000, or 9%, of the adult population in King and Snohomish. There are also around 339,000 people who have or have no other party affiliation. Many of them are likely to be non-citizens who are not eligible to vote in the United States
The data comes from surveys conducted from February to August 2016 and 2020. The newer dataset naturally captures the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. The small number of Republicans could reflect a response to the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
Demographic profiles show that Democrats in our region are not only younger than Republicans, but also have lower median net worth (suggesting lower home ownership levels), even though median household incomes are nearly the same. The median represents the center, ie half is above and half is below. (Note: this data includes those who are Democratic or Republican.)
Seattle-area Democrats are more likely to be single and, on average, more educated than Republicans. Both groups are a little less diverse here than the entire adult population. Independent ones (among those who don’t lean left or right) are more diverse, with 37% being black people.
For the 2016 and 2020 publications, Nielsen surveyed around 1,100 adults aged 18 and over in King and Snohomish counties.
Nielsen also polled Pierce County, which tends to be a little more conservative than King and Snohomish (though it’s still a blue county in the recent presidential election). But even in Pierce, the data shows that the number of self-identified Democrats rose by more than 30% from 2016 to 2020.
Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia urge citizens to declare that they are part of a political party when they register to vote. Washington is one of 19 countries that do not. Therefore there is no public data on party affiliation here.