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Poll: Washington may be a key state for independent candidates to succeed

A new poll released by the Unite America Institute shows that Washington State may be a particularly advantageous state for independent candidates.

Unite America, a national organization dedicated to electing independent candidates, says that the state’s top-two primary system, combined with strong numbers showing an openness to independent candidates, indicates Washington may be one of the most likely places for independents to succeed.

According to the poll, 75 percent of Washington voters say they are open to supporting independent candidates running for the state legislature. This includes 69 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats, and 85 percent of Independents.

Of those voters who said they only vote for their party, 66 percent said they would still consider voting for an independent.

“In other words, majorities of Democrats who would never vote for a Republican and Republicans who would never vote for a Democrat would consider voting for an independent candidate,” says Unite America.

The report also found that a majority of Washingtonians are disappointed with the legislature’s two-party system. Fifty-seven percent are frustrated by gridlock in the legislature and blame both Republicans and Democrats while only 16 percent say they believe the two parties are working well together.

One reason independent candidates may fare better in Washington compared to other areas of the nation is that Washington uses a top-two primary system rather than a primary based on party affiliation.

According to the poll, “this system, used by just three states, provides a unique opportunity for independent candidates who make it through the primary to be guaranteed a head-to-head general election contest – thereby avoiding the common challenge of being perceived as a “spoiler” or “wasted vote” in a traditional three-way race.”

The poll asked Washington voters who they would vote for in various generic head-to-head match-ups. In a match-up between a generic independent and a generic Republican, the independent candidate leads by 18 points (43 percent to 25 percent). In a race between a generic Democrat and an independent, the independent candidate leads by 8 points (35 percent – 27 percent).

The results indicate that if an independent candidate is able to make it through the primary, they will likely bring in independent voters and a majority of voters from the other candidate’s opposing party in the head-to-head general election. These numbers also show that about a third of both Democrats and Republicans remain undecided even if a candidate from their party is in the general election.

While these numbers show Washington’s top-two primary system favoring independents in the general election, the process of getting through the primaries is what holds independent candidates back. Sixty percent of Washington voters said that voting for an independent in the primaries might waste their vote or cause their least favorite candidate to get elected. In the primary election, voters fear that a vote for an independent candidate may be a wasted vote if the independent candidate doesn’t have enough broad support.

Regardless of these fears, when asked if they would consider voting for an independent candidate even if it means risking the chance that their least preferred candidate gets elected, 42 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans said they would still consider the independent.

Of Washington’s 1.8 million voters, 43 percent consider themselves independents. Though this outnumbers Democrats (33 percent) and Republicans (24 percent), there hasn’t been an independent in the Washington state legislature since 1889. In order to succeed, independent candidates will need the same visibility and support as the Democrat and Republican candidates during the primaries.