Voters in the Evergreen State are backing President Obama and same-sex marriage by wide margins, while giving Democrat Jay Inslee a slight edge over Republican Rob McKenna in the Washington governor's race, according to the latest Washington Poll released Thursday.
The poll also found clear support for limiting taxes and allowing charter schools.
Release of the results came on the same day Secretary of State Sam Reed said he expects turnout in the high-stakes election to reach 81 percent, a bit less than in 2008 but stronger than average.
The poll from the University of Washington's Center for Survey Research was done Oct. 1-16 and questioned 782 registered voters across the state with a margin of error of 3.5 percent. A slightly smaller sample of "likely voters" - 644 - had an error margin of 3.9 percent.
The results on Referendum 74's gay-marriage question show Washington well-poised to be among the first states approving same-sex marriage at the polls.
Raw results show that Washington voters favor passage of R-74 by a 56.3 percent to 35.6 percent margin, with 6.1 percent undecided. It is a closer 54.1 percent to 38.4 percent margin among likely voters, who tend to be older.
Pollsters went an extra step to adjust results for what they called "social desirability bias" - or survey participants' tendency to lie to pollsters when they think an honest answer would make them seem biased or bigoted. With the adjustment, the UW poll finds R-74 is leading by a 52.9 percent to 46.6 percent margin.
Matt Barreto, a UW associate professor of political science and director of the research center, said the dynamic in play is similar to the well-known "Bradley effect" - coined to explain why Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley ended up losing in 1982 after California polls showed he was on his way to victory.
Barreto said researchers later found that a certain share of white voters were uncomfortable telling a stranger - in other words, the pollster - that they would not be voting for a black man.
"Gays and lesbians have come to the status in the state of Washington where people do not want to admit to a stranger on the phone to having anti-gay attitudes," Barreto explained, adding that is "maybe 10 percent of the electorate."
"We are trying to disentangle that and adjust our estimates. We think it is a groundbreaking thing we are doing."
Barreto said the approach used in the poll to sort out bias was devised by UW doctoral student Betsy Cooper. It asked voters if they were uncomfortable about any of the topics raised and also if they lied - which the pollsters then used to shift some "yes" votes on R-74 into the "no'' column, and vice versa.
In other findings, the UW poll found:
* President Barack Obama leads Republican Mitt Romney by a 51.9 percent to 42.9 percent margin among likely voters. It found another 1.4 percent favored Libertarian Gary Johnson, 0.4 percent favored the Green Party's Jill Stein, and 1.3 percent favored an "other" candidate. Obama's edge is less than what several polls found earlier in the year.
* Democrat and former Congressman Jay Inslee leads Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna by less than 1 percentage point - 47.1 percent to 46.3 percent among likely voters, which is well within the margin of error. Inslee enjoys a larger, 3.2 percent edge over McKenna among all voters, but the close margin for both categories of voters echoes other recent polling that show the race is a tossup that leans slightly in Inslee's favor.
* Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell easily leads Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. Cantwell was ahead by a 57.7 percent to 35.4 percent margin among likely voters and by even more among all voters.
The poll showed several ballot measures passing:
* I-1185, which is Tim Eyman's latest effort to codify a two-thirds legislative vote requirement for tax increases, is leading by a 54.1 percent to 30.9 percent margin among likely voters. Many polls have showed it winning.
* I-1240, which proposes to allow up to 40 charter schools, is leading by a closer 48.8 percent to 40.1 percent margin among likely voters. It narrowly leads in Puget Sound counties and by double-digits elsewhere in the state.
* I-502, which proposes to tax and legalize the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana, is leading by a 47.1 percent to 40.1 percent margin.
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