Poll: Inslee has slight lead, all ballot measures ahead

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KCTS9 Washington Poll

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OLYMPIA -- A new poll released Thursday shows an exceptionally close race between Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna in the final stretch of a campaign that's considered to be one of the most competitive gubernatorial contests in the nation.

The KCTS 9 Washington poll showed Inslee with a 47.9 percent to 44.7 percent lead over McKenna among registered voters, with 7.5 percent undecided. Among likely voters, Inslee and McKenna are nearly even, with Inslee holding just a 47.1 percent to 46.3 percent advantage over McKenna, with 6.6 percent undecided. In both camps, the numbers are within the margin of error, showing that the race continues to be very close.

"The governor's race is just an absolute tossup right now," said Matt Barreto, director of the poll. "This makes it really interesting."

The telephone survey was conducted Oct. 1-16, sampling a total of 782 registered voters across the state, 644 of whom were considered likely voters. The margin of error for all voters is 3.5 percent; for likely voters, 3.9 percent.

The poll, conducted by the University of Washington, also found voters supporting four ballot measures dealing with gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, approving charter schools and limiting taxes.

Referendum 74 asks voters to either approve or reject a gay marriage law that was passed by the Legislature earlier this year. That law is on hold pending next month's vote. The poll showed that 56.3 percent of registered voters back gay marriage in the state, compared to 35.6 percent who oppose it, with 6.1 percent undecided. Among likely voters, support decreased to 54.1 percent, with 38.4 percent saying they would vote against the measure, and 5.7 percent undecided.

The poll on R-74 also included a third prediction, based on whether people answered honestly. Barreto said that because sometime people answering poll questions feel social pressure to answer a certain way, results can be skewed. In this poll, they weighted the poll based on how they answered two additional questions: if they lied on the survey and if any topics made them uncomfortable. That third prediction reduced those supporting the referendum down to 52.9 percent, and those opposing 46.6 percent.

Barreto noted that in 2009, when voters were deciding on a referendum on the state's so-called "everything but marriage" expansion of the domestic partnership law, his polling showed the measure was up by 17 points, but it ultimately only won by just over 6 percentage points.

"On almost every other race in 2009, we were off by a point, but on that issue, we were off by more than 10," he said.

On Initiative 502, which would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana under state law for those over 21, 50.9 percent of those asked said they would vote yes, compared to 40.8 percent who would vote no. Among likely voters, support drops slightly to 47.1 percent.

Among the ballot measures, the poll showed the strongest support for Initiative 1185, which asks voters to renew the restriction of a two-thirds legislative majority on any new tax. Support for the measure was at 53.6 percent, compared to 31.2 percent who oppose it. Among likely voters, support increases to 54.1 percent and opposition drops to 30.9 percent.

Charter schools was the only ballot measure that didn't get more than 50 percent among either group, with 47.5 percent of voters saying they would vote to support Initiative 1240, compared to the 39.2 percent who are opposed. Among the likely voter group, support increased a bit to 48.8 percent, compared to 40.1 percent opposed. I-1240 would create a public charter school system in Washington. It is opposed by the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union.

The poll also showed support for President Barack Obama in Washington state, with 51.8 percent saying they will vote for him, compared to 41.3 percent who said they will vote for Republican Mitt Romney. That number didn't change much among the likely voter group, with Obama holding a 51.9 percent to 42.9 percent advantage. U.S. Maria Cantwell also leads her Republican challenger, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, 58.3 percent to 34.8 percent. Among likely voters, her support drops slightly, to 57.7 percent, compared to 35.4 percent for Baumgartner.

Barreto said that another poll will be released on Nov. 1, just days before the election. Counties started sending ballots to voters on Wednesday.

"Now that ballots are going out, this marks the frenzied, mad dash of the campaign," he said.