Seattle City Council members could face some trouble in 2019.
Seattle City Council members could face some trouble in 2019. HG

A poll funded by supporters of the head tax found entrenched opposition to the controversial policy and low job performance ratings for the Seattle City Council, according to three people familiar with the results of the poll who spoke to The Stranger on the condition of anonymity.

The poll was completed before the Seattle City Council voted 7-2 to repeal the tax under intense pressure last week. The tax would have affected 3 percent of Seattle businesses, raised $45 million in its first year, and funded affordable housing and homeless services. The council had approved the tax just a month earlier. Not long after, opponents kicked off a petition to try to put the tax to a public vote, gathering more than 45,000 supporting signatures. By last week, even council members who enthusiastically supported the tax became convinced they couldn’t beat the anti-tax effort at the ballot.

Sources who spoke to The Stranger had either seen polling results or been briefed on them on the phone. They would only say that the polling was funded by groups supportive of the tax. Bring Seattle Home, the pro-head tax campaign, reported in campaign finance filings that it spent $20,000 on polling conducted by EMC Research. The campaign has not released the results of that polling. In total, Bring Seattle Home raised about $70,000, almost entirely from SEIU.

Sources said the poll found that more than half of respondents supported repealing the head tax. Those numbers didn’t substantially improve even when respondents heard positive messaging about the tax. The poll reached 500 likely voters, according to one person.

“What we generally found was all of the pro-repeal arguments were more convincing than the anti-repeal arguments and we found that the intensity level on the [pro-]repeal was much higher,” the person said.

More broadly, the poll found dissatisfaction with the Seattle City Council and the overall direction of the city, the three people said. For the first time since around the time of the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession, a majority of survey respondents said the city is on the wrong track. (This is a common question in polls, meaning pollsters can compare over many years whether people think the city is going in the right or wrong direction.)

In questions about the city council as a whole, the poll found favorability ratings for the city council around 40 percent and job performance in the “20s or low 30s,” one source said. Mayor Jenny Durkan, meanwhile, had a favorability rating around 60 percent. (Other sources did not remember specific numbers but remembered low ratings for the council.)

Those results could indicate fertile ground for challenges to sitting city council members next year. Seven of nine council members will be up for reelection in 2019. Notes from a Downtown Seattle Association meeting, first reported by The Atlantic and since provided to The Stranger, indicate local business leaders want "a new city council" and believe they have "an opportunity to take back our city."

The poll also asked broad questions about labor unions and how the city should respond to homelessness. Respondents supported a “compassionate” approach to homelessness and had a favorable view of unions, the sources said.

The polling was not the first to show voters are frustrated with the city council.

A KIRO poll of 400 registered voters conducted just before the council passed the tax found 54 percent of people opposed the proposal. Asked about various levels of the tax, opposition was higher the more money the tax would have raised. In that poll, 43 percent of people said they did not trust the city "at all" to spend money raised by the tax wisely.

A separate poll conducted about two months before the council passed the tax and obtained by Crosscut found that 83 percent of people were dissatisfied with the city council’s progress addressing homelessness.

With the death of the city head tax, Mayor Jenny Durkan has emphasized the need for a regional approach, but the only ongoing regional task force working on the issue had stalled out. Members of that group are now attempting to restart that work.