Oregon voters don't divide neatly into red and blue


    Voters in Southern Oregon said on Nov. 6 that they wanted a new governor, limits on publicly funded abortions and a repeal of the state’s immigrant sanctuary law. Voters in the Portland area felt differently — and they had numbers on their side. But this doesn’t mean Oregonians living outside the Willamette Valley are irrelevant in state politics.

    The organization I direct, PolicyInteractive Research, conducts public opinion polls in Oregon and other states. Our bottom-line finding: Oregonians are far less polarized than is widely believed, and share more common ground than election results suggest.

    The implication is that Oregonians from all points of the compass can work together to achieve shared goals. The opportunities are especially promising in the fields of climate change and health care.

    PolicyInteractive began our current study by building upon the Pew Research Center’s work at the national level. Pew sorted Americans into eight political categories, ranging from Solid Liberals to Core Conservatives.

    Applying Pew’s approach to our own Oregon political culture, by using their 12 core ideological questions we found that only 30 percent of Oregonians hold views that place them solidly in those two edge-of-the-spectrum categories. The other 70 percent, where election swings occur, exhibit much more variation than than a gradual blue-to-red spectrum. Democrats are quite “conservative” on some issues, Republicans quite “liberal” on others.

    For instance, 13 percent are Opportunity Democrats, liberals who value free markets and private initiative. Eleven percent are Progressive Conservatives, who see a place for government action to address some social and environmental problems.

    Then there are the Disaffected Democrats (13 percent), the Young Liberal Consumers (8 percent), the Apolitical Country-First Libertarians (9 percent) and the Market-Skeptic Republicans (12 percent).

    PolicyInteractive then added 13 additional ideological questions ranging from gun rights to gay rights, and from building codes to race relations. Details of our findings can be reviewed at PolicyInteractive.org: Common Ground 2018.

    We didn’t find Oregonians ready for a statewide kumbaya sing-along. We did find that Oregonians do agree much more than characterized by much of our media. Of the 25 topics often characterized as being divisive, only five can be observed as truly contested.

    These shades of opinion are obscured by our binary election process. Oregonians live in a full-color world, not one where choices are limited to stark red or blue.

    We found common ground on a couple of issues we delved into more deeply: climate change and health care. For example:

    • Majorities in all eight categories support an “overhaul of the existing system toward one that educated and rewards good health rather than one that focuses on profit and sickness.”
    • Across the political spectrum, high levels of support exist for greater transparency in health care pricing, and for price controls on health care services and pharmaceuticals.
    • Majorities in all categories except Core Conservatives agree that “climate change requires us to change our way of life, drive less and live more simply.”
    • Only a majority of Core Conservatives opposes joining with other states and Canadian provinces to achieve a 90 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

    One way to interpret this is that Oregonians’ opinions are a complex mix of liberal and conservative ideas. Legislators from the deep-blue districts along the Willamette River need to understand the collateral influence of competing worldviews, whether within each individual, region, or the state as a whole.

    Oregon is poised to undertake some needed policy initiatives. The Democrats solidified a dominant position in the Oregon body politic. How well they recognize and respect the complexity of our shared values could well likely decide successful and durable they will be. How well Republican legislators rethink “if we all don’t hang together, we’ll all hang separately” will likely decide how durable their party will be.

    Tom Bowerman of Eugene is director of PolicyInteractive Research, a non-partisan independent organization engaged in polling and public policy analysis. Jackman Wilson, former editorial page editor of The Register-Guard in Eugene, assisted in preparing this essay. A report of this research may be accessed at policyinteractive.org/common-ground/

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