Someone apparently paid an opposition research firm to disseminate a push poll designed to scare Seattle voters away from Seattle City Attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Seattle City Council candidate Nikkita Oliver. One of the poll questions says the text-based surveys ask "different people about different candidates," so they could be trying to scare Seattleites away from other candidates, too, but I've only seen the anti-NTK/anti-Oliver one.
Change Seattle, an independent expenditure supporting Sara Nelson's bid for Seattle City Council against Oliver, paid $15,000 to a Texas-based oppo firm for "research consulting" at the end of last month. I sent an email to ask if they paid for the poll, and if they plan to ask for a partial reimbursement since the firm spelled Sara's name with an "h" several times in one of the questions. I will update this post if I hear back, though admittedly this is a total guess and it could be any of the other big-business PACs lining up to beat down progressives.
In the meantime, let's break down this nonsense real quick.
The survey begins with broad favorability questions before veering into a few scare-mongering questions about NTK and then finally diving into eight uncharitably framed questions about Oliver.
As is typical of the genre, the poll questions frame these candidates in the worst possible light, cynically exploiting fears about crimes to drive myopic property owners into the arms of, in this case, a person who became a Republican during the Trump administration and a beer lobbyist who co-owns a brewery. The messaging in the poll is somewhat useful, however, as a preview of the messaging that rich people and corporations will stuff into our mailboxes and sidebars this election season.
The Ann Davison Experience
Before the poll introduces the candidates running for City Attorney and asks about positive/negative messaging, the poll asks three loaded questions about whether respondents would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate based on some statements about homelessness and criminal punishment, each of which buys into the right-wing framing of those topics. The poll asks if the respondent "supports removing tent encampments from city parks and sidewalks if the people living there refuse to accept shelter and services," "supports defunding the police by at least 50% and further reducing the number of officers in Seattle," and then "supports ending the prosecution of low-level domestic violence cases." Encampments, defunding, and DV—oh my!
To briefly address these points: (1) If you want to read the 824th story on why some homeless people "refuse to accept shelter and services," this story from the Seattle Times last month is a good place to start. (2) To ask people whether they support candidates who want to divest from the police and criminal punishment institutions without mentioning the massive corresponding investments in housing, mental health care, and other supports and services these candidates are calling for to prevent crimes from happening in the first place is to only tell half of the story.
After this little warm-up, the poll runs positive and negative messaging on NTK and Davison. The negative NTK frame fabricates "critics" who say her “only experience is running restaurants and bars” and that she’s part of "a radical abolitionist moment."
Going after NTK on "experience" in this race is comical. NTK has four years of experience as a Seattle public defender, and Davison has appeared in a Puget Sound-area court a total of five times in her whole career, and almost all of those cases involved wills, according to some court records Publicola reviewed. In terms of her familiarity with the office and of the lawyers she'll oversee if she wins, NTK beats Davison on experience by a mile.
In an email, Davison pointed to her "16 years of legal experience, primarily as a civil transactional attorney." During that time she claimed she once helped "a doctor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo become a US citizen" but spent most of her time representing "professional sports agents and front office staff... in a transactional practice." If you want to see whether you'd hire Davison for these services, head on over to her firm's website and spend the rest of your day reading this abstract poem:
The positive Davison frame introduces her as "a pro-choice moderate," and the negative admits that "critics say" she "is actually a right wing law and order Republican."
There is no question of whether Davison is a right wing Republican. She joined the Republican party during Donald Trump's presidency in order to run for Lt. Governor, a post she wanted to "abolish" to save money despite the fact that whoever serves in that position also presides over the Senate.
Moreover, until she took a job as Davison's campaign manager, Marina Udodik worked for years as operations and database administrator for Westgate Chapel, an anti-LGBT evangelical church that just hosted Christian Nationalist Charlie Kirk, and that promotes the anti-abortion group Obria. In an email, Davison said Udodik's "prior work and its positions has nothing to do with me or my campaign nor do they have any influence," and she repeated her new line about voting for Democrats such as Joe Biden at the federal level. She did not respond to a question about why she hired as her campaign manager someone who doesn't list any political work on her LinkedIn, nor how she was introduced to Udodik.
They'll probably try to frame Oliver as antifa Sawant
After all that bullshit about the City Attorney's office, the version of the poll I saw turns its attention to the open citywide city council race. In its baseline positive/negative messaging test, the poll accurately describes Oliver as a "community organizer, artist, and attorney" but excludes their experience co-directing Creative Justice, and then glosses over their broad policy positions without context: "Oliver has pledged to tax the wealthy, 100% defund the police, enact a Green New Deal for Seattle, and stop all sweeps of homeless encampments."
Unlike Oliver's introduction, "Sarah" Nelson's introduction softens her conservative views with context, arguing that she's "a progressive small-business owner" who "supports a housing first approach to homelessness, but also believes we must end unsafe encampments in our parks, neighborhoods, and downtown."
From there, the poll asks eight uncharitably framed questions that aim to do two things: tie Oliver to Sawant and insist they want to abolish the police literally the second before a heroic cop swoops in to save your beloved christ-child from getting sex trafficked by a homeless zombie fresh from a murder at the open air drug market that displaced the quirky cafe you never go to.
I will waste no one's time running through every single one of those questions, but I will point out, again, how disingenuous it is to drop random Oliver tweets about cops and abolition without mentioning their platform to house everyone in Seattle, divest from police in order to "invest in culturally responsive community-led care solutions," invest in education, help lead the way on reparations, "guarantee mental health care to all Seattle residents who want it," and all the other supports and services they'd fight to stand up as the city transitions away from its punitive response to low-level crimes.
Oliver has said they don't believe this process will happen overnight, but that it is time to act with urgency. In an endorsement interview with the Stranger Election Control Board last spring, Oliver said that "over the next few years" the city should "continue to decrease the Seattle Police Department by 10 to 20%, continue to grow our in-community structures for responding to mental health crises, domestic violence, having access to safe houses and affordable housing, providing people with rental and food support."
The repeated comparisons to Sawant are mostly just funny to me. Trying to hang Sawant around another politician's neck is quickly becoming the oldest trick in the book, and I don't know if it's ever really worked as an electoral strategy in the Seattle area. Republicans tried it with Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Manka Dhingra, and she's now Senator Manka Dhingra.
This push poll amounts to the second such survey to hit the Seattle area in the last couple weeks. The other one was a pro-Bruce Harrell survey that described him as a "civil rights and small business attorney," which is not exactly how he presented himself to a Pioneer Square business group on Monday. "I was chief counsel of a major corporation [CenturyLink]; I managed a downtown law firm," he said by way of explaining why he'd be the best and most high-energy mayor.