I know 'tis the season when the Hallmark Channel starts showing Christmas movies. I also know the holidays are approaching when public opinion researchers like me begin to get calls from local candidates and ballot measure campaigns to help with next year's elections. The question we are asked most often is: what is on the minds of Oregonians in my corner of the state?
While in the past research has shown the answer to this question varies by where the caller lives in Oregon, today there is a cluster of issues that are pretty much the issues across Oregon: poverty, homelessness and the cost of housing.
This is an exciting year for us to report on the values and beliefs of Oregonians across the state. Usually, the only research available for us to reference comes from statewide surveys using proportional sampling. That means the number of completed interviews for less-populated areas of the state are so small that the results must be projected.
Typically, the best we can do is give broad estimates using large residential groupings like Metro Portland, Willamette Valley and "Rest of State." This year however, thanks to research conducted on behalf of the Yarg Foundation, the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts and the Oregon Community Foundation, we have valid and statistically reliable survey findings for eight different areas of the state. This gives us a rare chance to tease out regional similarities and differences in core values and beliefs.
What does the research show? Take notice, local political candidates and ballot measure campaigns. Elected public officials: You, too.
A key question asked in the survey was, "What is the most important issue in your community that you want leaders to do something about?" This was an open-ended question asked without any prompts. (I've always felt this is a more valid way of asking the question. However, it is more expensive because of the coding that must be done.)
A wide variety of issues were mentioned, including what we've heard most about over the years: education, government spending and taxation, and jobs and the economy.
Although there are different issues at the top of the list, there is no real urban/rural divide about what Oregonians today want to see addressed in their communities.
• Metro: Poverty and homelessness, housing costs, environment, transportation, education, other.
• North Coast: Housing costs, transportation, poverty and homelessness, other.
• South Coast: Poverty and homelessness, economy/jobs, environment, other.
• Northern Willamette Valley: Poverty and homelessness, public safety, transportation, other.
• Southern Willamette Valley: Poverty and homelessness, environment, housing costs, education, other.
• Southern Oregon: Poverty and homelessness, housing costs, environment, other.
• Central Oregon: Housing costs, poverty and homelessness transportation, other.
• Eastern Oregon: Economy/jobs, poverty and homelessness, other.
Many issues were mentioned in each area of Oregon, but poverty and homelessness ranked among the top three in all eight areas, while housing costs cracked the top tier in six of the eight areas — most often mentioned on the North Coast and in Central Oregon.
Other recently completed research validates these findings. Washington County Growing Up, a report released in September, shows great concern about housing costs and traffic congestion. In a study for the Bend Chamber, it again was housing costs and traffic congestion.
A statewide survey completed by PI Research after the Legislature adjourned earlier this year asked about nine different issues using a closed-ended format. The combined "very important" and "critically important" ratings show housing costs and homelessness at 75%, following only by health care costs at 78%.
Other issues in the PI Research survey included K-12 education quality and funding (rated "very" or "critically important" by 66% of respondents); drug use and addiction (57%); greenhouse gas emissions and climate change (49%); PERS reform (39%); campaign finance reform (37%); traffic congestion (37%); and urban sprawl (25%). Importantly, a majority rated all issues at least "moderately" important.
The data show that Oregonians, regardless of where they live, are largely concerned about the same issues. And at the top of this list are poverty and homelessness, along with housing costs.
Voters will be listening for what political candidates have to say about them and will be razor-focused on related ballot measures.
These days, we're finding ourselves talking about these issues with candidates and ballot measure campaigns more than any others. Here's hoping we can embrace the holiday spirit and make some progress in helping our fellow Oregonians who are struggling with addiction and the cost of health care and housing.
Adam Davis is co-founder of DHM Research and has been conducting opinion research in Oregon for more than 40 years. He is currently working to establish an Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent, nonprofit charitable organization to provide voice to all Oregonians in statewide and local policymaking, planning and communications.
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