State poll: Liquor initiative passing; road toll too close to call

Oct 31, 2011

Statewide initiatives on the Washington ballot have many people here still studying up and wondering how to vote. Registered voters have about a week left to make up their minds. Two of the most talked about issues are whether to get rid of state-run liquor stores and on how highway tolls can be spent. A survey of voters, done by researchers at the University of Washington, offers some insight into what voters might decide after all the votes are tallied.

The statewide Washington Poll, put together by UW political science Professor Matt Barreto, says the liquor privatization measure, I-1183, will likely pass because it has the hit the crucial tipping point of 50 percent. Barreto's poll says only 43 percent of those surveyed opposed the measure.

Costco's big spending may pay off

It appears voters agree it’s time to end the state’s regulated monopoly on liquor stores. The measure is backed by big box stores such as Costco wholesale, which poured a record $22 million dollars into the yes campaign.  

It's a tough issue for many voters to understand because the interests involved are muddled - or certainly not clearly discernable from reading source materials such as the pro and con statements in voters' pamphlets. But so far, it looks like the measure will pass, ending the state's regulated monopoly on liquor sales.

Still a mystery: I-1125 on project-specific tolls

Less predictable at this point, Baretto says, is initiative 1125. That’s the proposal to make it mandatory for the money that’s collected when you drive across a toll road to be spent only on that project.

“On initiative 1125, we found a very, very close race: 41% in support and 40% opposed, with 19% still undecided, ” Barreto says.

He says the negative sentiment toward this measure seems to be mostly coming from voters in the Puget Sound region, who may be more focused on how it relates to the bridges across Lake Washington (such as those starting on the 520 bride in December.)

Barreto says in eastern Washington, nearly a third of the respondents to his poll hadn’t yet made up their minds about 1125.  (This reminds me of many tough fights for policy change; often in Olympia, the refrain is that less populated areas should not have to pay for the more expensive infrastructure of  more densely populated areas.) And he agrees with pollster Stuart Ellway, who says the personality of professional activist Tim Eyeman, who has made a career out of fighting state transportation taxes, is less of a factor in this race than in times past.  

The Washington poll surveyed 938 registered voters and was conducted over a three-week period in October. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. More details available here via AP newswriter Mike Baker.