A close race for Seattle City Council # 9: Sara Nelson leads Nikkita Oliver by only four points :: NPI’s Cascadia Advocate


Eight years ago, Seattle voters decided to change the city’s government plan to include a city council with seats in most counties instead of one with nine seats. Since 2015 the council has consisted of seven district seats and two advisory board seats, one of which is held by M. Lorena González.

González chose to run for mayor this year instead of seeking another term on the council. For the first time since the council switched to a hybrid architecture, voters will elect a new council member for position 9.

The finalists selected for the job this summer are Sara Nelson, a small business owner and co-owner of Fremont Brewing, and Nikkita Oliver, a lawyer, writer, and activist with extensive experience building nonprofit organizations.

Both Nelson and Oliver have previously run for office in Seattle, and both fell short: Nelson for the council and Oliver for the mayor.

This year, however, one of them will be directed to Seattle City Hall as one of the Emerald City’s newest elected officials. But we will probably only know which ones a few days after election day. That’s because the Nelson-Oliver competition is the closest of Seattle’s four citywide races this year.

In our poll for the general election in October 2021 among voters of Emerald City, Nelson and Oliver are currently only separated by four percentage points – a difference that almost corresponds to the poll’s modeled error rate of 4.1%.

41% of 617 likely 2021 voters in Seattle last week said they would vote for Nelson for position 9 of the council, while 37% said they would vote for Oliver. 21% said they were not sure and 2% said they would not vote.

Nelson’s weak leadership reflects the momentum we saw on election night in August when Nelson took first place. Nelson later gave up that leadership, however, and Oliver climbed to first place thanks to a surge of support in the late polls, a position they maintained through certification. Nelson received 39.47% of the vote in August while Oliver received 40.18% of the vote.

A picture of the NPI poll results for Seattle City Council position 9, 2021

Our general election survey conducted by Change Research for the Northwest Progressive Institute has a modeled error rate of 4.1% with a confidence interval of 95%. All 617 respondents participated online. The poll was in the field from Tuesday, October 12, 2021 to Friday, October 15, 2021.

Here are the exact questions we asked and the answers we received:

QUESTION: Candidates for position 9 on the city council this year are listed below in the order they appear on the ballot for the November general election. Who are you voting for?

[See list as it was shown to respon­dents]


  • Sara Nelson: 39%
  • Nikkita Oliver: 35%
  • Not sure: 26%

FOLLOW-UP ASKED BY UNDECISONED VOTERS ONLY: If you had to choose, who would you choose?


  • [Still] Not sure: 82%
  • Nikkita Oliver: 7%
  • Sara Nelson: 3%
  • Wouldn’t vote: 2%


  • Sara Nelson: 41%
  • Nikkita Oliver: 37%
  • Not sure: 21%
  • Wouldn’t vote: 2%

In our July 2021 poll of Seattle voters, Oliver was the best performing candidate, a testament to her organizational skills and early public relations with 26% support. Nelson received less than half of that (11%) in the poll, but saw an immediate surge in support when the vote began.

On election night, Nelson jumped into first place thanks to strong support from early voters. But it didn’t last. As mentioned earlier, Oliver overtook Nelson in the late polls and ended up in first place, just as our research had shown.

Could the same scenario repeat itself next month?

Our team thinks it could be very good. Unlike the mayor’s or city attorney‘s races, where the top candidates have a double-digit lead, Nelson’s lead is pretty small. That is the kind of lead that can be overcome in late votes.

It is crucial that Oliver has a support that neither Lorena González nor Nicole Thomas-Kennedy have in these other races. Oliver leads Nelson (41% to 34%) among the colored voters, as opposed to Gonzalez or Thomas-Kennedy, and also has an advantage among voters who identify as female (40% versus Nelson’s 35%).

Oliver is also ahead with two age groups instead of just one.

They are supported by a slight majority of voters between the ages of thirty-five and fifty (40% versus Nelson’s 37%), in addition to a huge lead among young voters between eighteen and thirty-four (55% versus Nelson’s 25%). .

That support base will be vital on the home stretch and keep Oliver competitive.

Nelson’s strongest support comes from older voters and voters who identify as male. 50% of voters aged 65 and over support them, 25% support Oliver. Voters between the ages of 50 and 64 also favor Nelson: 46% of them say they will vote for her, versus 32% for Oliver.

If Nelson can extend her lead by November 2nd, she could potentially hold Oliver up instead of falling to second place in the late polls.

According to our geographic crosstabs, there are significant undecided voters in two parishes: District # 1 (which includes West Seattle) and District # 7 (including the Financial District, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and nearby neighborhoods). 34% of voters in each “likely” parish aren’t sure who to vote for, numbers twice that of any other district.

Which candidate has been most effective in addressing voters in West Seattle, Downtown, Queen Anne, and Magnolia in the past two weeks may end up running out of steam when all the ballots have been counted.

Oliver’s strongest district is No. 2 (which includes the Rainier Valley and adjacent neighborhoods like Beacon Hill) while Nelson’s strongest district is No. 5 (the northernmost district, which includes neighborhoods bordering Shoreline).

Oliver has 65% support in “likely” # 2 ward and Nelson has 49% support in “likely” # 5 ward. (Note that our geographical segmentation is based on zip code, not respondents’ specific addresses, which is why these crosstabs are marked as “likely” parish wards.)

Both Nelson and Oliver have proven they can connect with voters. We will be intrigued to see who voters will choose next month to represent them on the council. The race may or may not end in Recount Territory, but whether or not it does, it looks like it will be the next of the four citywide races.

NPI does not agree with Nelson or Oliver and has no endorsement for Seattle City Council position 9 or any involvement in independent issues that support or disapprove of any candidate.

The November 2021 vote ends on November 2nd. The ballot papers must be postmarked 02/11/2021 or be in a mailbox by 8:00 p.m. in order to count.

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