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Vote 2016

The ‘J’ Has More Sway: Washington State Voters Speak Clearly

An analysis of Washington counties and voting patterns.

November 14, 2016

Tears, fears and protests ripple across the country. More than 100,000 people sign up for the supposedly dreaded “Obamacare.” A few racists scribble hateful thoughts on bathroom and park walls.

In spite of seismic national election results that have left many people in our corner of the world profoundly upset, Washington State fared well. If in doubt, consider the voting habits in “Pugetopolis” — sometimes known as the “J.”

I refer to the voting proclivities of the J-shape of counties beginning with Whatcom County at the Canadian border, and then tracking south through Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, wrapping around Puget Sound.

In the old days, the maxim held that you could stand atop the Space Needle and see all the votes you need to win an election in this state. But as the population boomed, the election map expanded geographically.

Late political consultant, Bob Gogerty, who advised many local politicians, once urged me to become a state election map nerd.


He described something bigger than a metropolitan area of, say, Seattle-Tacoma- Bellevue or King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Pugetopolis — or the J — is a broader state of mind.

It is where the bulk of the state’s population resides and where Washington elections are decided. In the 2016 election — yes, the one that will make many people around here quiver for a long time — the J holds more sway.

For those still licking and bandaging sizable wounds from Donald Trump’s nationwide win of the U.S. presidency — a phrase that does not roll readily off the tongue — let’s go to the maps.

Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump in Washington State. Behold the J, plus Clark and Whitman counties.


Watch the pattern. It’s not perfect, but it is consistent. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee versus Republican Bill Bryant:

And, with a slight variation, Lt. Gov.-elect Cyrus Habib, Democrat, over Republican Marty McClendon.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray transcends the trend. Over the years, she has become a senator for the whole state. But it wasn’t always so.

This is Murray’s re-election map from 2016 in her race against Republican Chris Vance.

And this was her re-election performance in 2010. Definitely not a full J, and a much closer contest.

You can see where this is going. Small consolation to many voters around here, but you can imagine new T-shirts being rapidly produced and bearing this slogan: “Don’t blame me, I’m from the J.’’


Joni Balter

Joni Balter is a multi-media journalist and lecturer at Seattle University and the University of Washington Evans Graduate School of Public Policy and Governance. A KCTS 9 political analyst and advisor, she has contributed to KUOW and Bloomberg View, and was a columnist for The Seattle Times. More stories by Joni Balter