People have some interesting ideas about what goes on in the state

Oregon politicians frequently talk about the state as a progressive vanguard, touting its support for alternative energy, worker rights and doctor-assisted suicide.

But across the country, most people still think of Oregon the way former Gov. Tom McCall described it: a nice place to visit. The state’s natural beauty was by far the most common thing mentioned in a recent national survey. That was followed by access to outdoor recreation.

“Beautiful state I would like to visit,” said a middle-age, college-educated woman in the South when asked to name the first thing about Oregon that comes to mind.

“Fresh air, trees, mountains,” said a young college-educated woman from New England.

In fact, according to DHM research, more than 60 percent of respondents to the open-ended question mentioned nature in some way. When asked which of the state’s attributes were higher than average, 82 percent put “natural beauty” first, followed by 78 percent who prioritized “outdoor recreation.”

Many people also think Oregon has few problems, ranking homelessness and crime below average compared to the rest of the country.

“It is like a national report card on Oregon and our ‘grade’ isn’t bad,” said Adam Davis of DHM Research. “High marks for our natural beauty, access to outdoor recreation, and low homelessness and crime.”

According to Davis, Oregonians agree with how the nation sees the state.

“What U.S. residents rate Oregon highest for — natural beauty and access to outdoor recreation — are among the top things Oregonians value about living in the state,” he said. “There, perhaps, is a lesson about economic development and good news for the travel and tourism industry.”

And Davis said Oregon has not been tainted by the bad things that happen here.

“Oregon over the last decade has taken some hits in the media for its schools and economy, even the mall and school shootings,” he said. “The negativity appears not to have negatively affected national perceptions of the state.”

A few people have taken notice, however.

“A bunch of nut jobs with guns,” a young college-educated male in the South said about Oregon.

The survey was conducted with 1,023 respondents in an online panel May 5-8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, meaning the results can be off by that amount in either direction.

What about eastern Oregon?

The praise for Oregon’s outdoor beauty does not mean everyone understands the geography of the state. Although the coast, mountains and forests were frequently cited, the arid lands that makes up much of eastern Oregon was not mentioned. It seems when most of the country thinks about Oregon, they think about the western part of the state.

Much of the nation is aware of our weather. Rain was mentioned frequently by respondents, with some apparently thinking it is a problem.

“Rain, rain all the time,” said a middle-age man with some college education from the Northeast.

Apparently the rest of the nation thinks there are only two cities in Oregon. One is Portland, which was mentioned along with the “Portlandia” TV show by 9 percent of respondents. The other is Eugene, perhaps better known as the home of the Oregon Ducks, which was mentioned by 3 percent.

But the focus on the environment does not mean our state’s progressive politics have completely escaped notice. “Liberal” was mentioned by 9 percent of respondents, while “legalized marijuana” and “hippies/hipsters” were each mentioned by 6 percent.

“A progressive population willing to make demands for the common good,” said a middle-age high school-educated female in the Northeast.

“Liberal tree huggers who dislike private enterprise,” said an older, college-educated man from the West.

Some opinions about Oregon varied by demographics. For example, older people were more likely to bring up the state’s natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities in the open-ended questions. In contrast, younger people were more likely to bring up legalized marijuana (by a margin of 11 percent to 3 percent) and the presence of hippies/hipsters.

Location also made a difference. People in the Midwest were less likely than others to mention Oregon’s weather, perhaps because it doesn’t seem that bad to them. On the other hand, people in the South were especially likely to talk about the weather being rainy, wet, cloudy, foggy, bad or cold.

Those from the West were much more aware of the state’s peculiarities than the rest of the country, perhaps because they visit it more. For example, they were more likely to mention that Oregon has no sales tax, has above-average homelessness and is perceived to be below average in business friendliness.

Outdated notions

Not surprisingly, not all of the opinions about Oregon are accurate. For example, a few people think there is still a lot of logging going on.

Far more — 94 percent — think the state’s high school graduation rate is average or above average. In fact, it’s about the lowest in the country.

In addition, 78 percent think Oregon is an affordable place to live, even though Portland, Eugene and other cities have declared housing states of emergencies over the past nine months.

And some people think our politics are evenly split, despite the Democratic Party’s domination of statewide, congressional and legislative offices.

“Half insanely liberal, half insanely conservative,” an older college-educated male in the Northeast said.

Davis warns against reading too much into any particular comment.

“Remember, this is a cross-section of all adult Americans,” he said. “Findings might be different if you were to ask a random sample of only business leaders or politicians, perhaps.”

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