Picture a stronghold of Bernie Sanders supporters, and suburbs like Bonney Lake and Duvall might not be the first places that come to mind.
Yet in Washington’s May 24 presidential primary election, the liberal Vermont senator fared better in bedroom communities like DuPont and Wilkeson than he did in urban centers like Tacoma and Seattle.
An analysis of precinct-by-precinct results from the Democratic primary election show that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeated Sanders in some of the Puget Sound’s most urban, liberal areas.
Meanwhile, Sanders won many outlying communities in more conservative swing districts, as well as in areas that tend to vote Republican in general elections.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive,” said Ben Anderstone, a local Democratic political consultant. “You saw frankly a lot of urban Seattle — even some of the younger areas — being pretty good for Clinton, with suburban areas being good for Sanders.”
A lot of the more middle or lower-class suburban areas voted for Sanders. Areas that have done more favorably in the economic upturn … were more favorable toward Clinton.
Ben Anderstone, Democratic political consultant
On the Republican side, real estate magnate Donald Trump dominated throughout the state, amassing three-quarters of votes cast in the Republican primary. But his numbers were much lower in precincts with military bases, where voters supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at higher rates than in the rest of the state.
The Sanders effect in the suburbs can be explained mostly by economics, Anderstone said. He said middle-class suburban areas with housing subdivisions that suffered during the the recent foreclosure crisis were more likely to be competitive for Sanders, who has railed against a “rigged economy” that he says favors corporations and the wealthy.
“A lot of the more middle or lower-class suburban areas voted for Sanders,” Anderstone said. “Areas that have done more favorably in the economic upturn, like Seattle — or even doing OK, like Tacoma — were more favorable toward Clinton.”
While Clinton won the statewide Democratic primary, it didn’t affect the race for the Democratic nomination. Instead, Washington state Democrats awarded delegates to presidential candidates based on the results of precinct caucuses, which Sanders won overwhelmingly in March.
Because of the election’s insignificance, some Sanders backers said that many of his supporters didn’t vote in the primary — a trend they said most likely skewed the election results toward Clinton.
52% Support for Hillary Clinton among voters in Tacoma
57% Support for Hillary Clinton among voters in Seattle
But Phil Gardner, a Democratic strategist, said Clinton’s win in Washington’s urban districts is consistent with voting trends across the country, in which she wins support among older, wealthier voters and people of color.
“If someone was not white, they were much more likely to be a Clinton voter. If they were white, they were much more likely to be a Sanders voter,” Gardner said.
Clinton performed well in racially diverse areas such as Tacoma’s East Side and South Seattle, as well as wealthier areas of both cities, the election results show.
Overall, Clinton won 52 percent of the vote in Tacoma precincts and 57 percent of the vote in the precincts that make up Seattle.
Olympia and Thurston County followed a different trend. Voters there generally favored Sanders over Clinton, with Sanders winning 56 percent of the vote within the Olympia city limits and 52 percent countywide.
Sanders’ dominance in Thurston County and Olympia may have been fueled partly by the area’s large population of college students and public sector workers, who often are Sanders supporters, Gardner said. The state’s largest state-worker union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, endorsed Sanders in January.
11%Support for Ted Cruz statewide in Republican presidential primary
32%Support for Cruz in voting precincts that include military bases
There wasn’t much of a primary competition on the Republican side, as Trump was the only candidate remaining in the race when most voters were filling out their ballots in May. Among Republicans, the businessman and former reality TV star carried the state with 75 percent of the vote.
Yet on military bases — including Joint Base Lewis-McChord — Trump was less popular, in some cases winning the support of fewer than 50 percent of voters. Trump actually lost to Cruz in two of the four precincts on JBLM, winning only about 38 percent of the vote there compared with Cruz’s 48 percent.
McChord Air Force Base and Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane “are pretty much the only areas where Donald Trump lost in the entire state,” Anderstone said.
Two leaders of Trump’s statewide campaign — Republican state Sens. Don Benton and Doug Ericksen — did not return phone calls Friday.
Though Cruz won only 11 percent of the primary vote statewide, he won 32 percent of the vote in the state’s military precincts.
Keith Schipper, a Republican political consultant, said Cruz’s strong showing on military bases is probably due to service members receiving their ballots 30 days before other voters, when Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were still in the race. (Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also appeared on the Republican primary ballot in May, despite ending his campaign months earlier.)
“Cruz had a lot of momentum going when the military folks got their ballots,” Schipper said. “What we saw there is probably what we would have seen statewide if Cruz had stayed through and Trump hadn’t ascended his throne.”
Trump also garnered only 60 percent of the vote in and around DuPont, a community that includes many active-duty and retired military members.
If you’re going to be running to be commander in chief, you’d better get yourself up to speed in advance about what it means to run our military
State Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel
State Rep. Dick Muri, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose district includes DuPont and JBLM, said military voters may also have concerns about Trump’s lack of expertise when it comes to military-related issues.
“Trump may have a lot of good points, but I don’t think he truly has a good understanding of national defense policy,” said Muri, R-Steilacoom, who said he cast his primary vote for Kasich. “If you’re going to be running to be commander in chief, you’d better get yourself up to speed in advance about what it means to run our military.”
Among Democrats, Sanders carried the precincts that include JBLM and DuPont, winning more than 60 percent of the vote there.
Muri and Anderstone said that is most likely because military members tend to be younger, and young Democratic voters have gravitated toward Sanders this year.