OPINION: It's time to give voice to the values that unite us
As a recently retired opinion researcher, I spent a professional career exploring the divides in Oregon.
The political divide.
The racial divide.
The urban-rural divide.
Too often, my exploration was limited to one or another subgroup of Oregonians, rather than all Oregonians. And my charge was to simply report the numbers and let my clients take it from there, which most often meant using the data to promote their self-interest in one way or another.
As a co-founder of the nonprofit Oregon Value and Beliefs Center (OVBC), I now feel like Django Unchained. As a native Oregonian (another divide: short- and long-term residents), I consider it an honor to help provide Oregonians a tool to not only explore the divides in our state but also to help bridge those divides.
We are at a critical moment in Oregon. The hounds are no longer waiting outside the door. They are in our living rooms: the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the overdue need to address racial inequalities and frightening implications of climate change.
From the perspective of an opinion researcher and student of public policymaking, I see two things needed to help soothe the savage beasts, both of which OVBC can provide.
First is regularly hearing from all Oregonians about their values and beliefs, not just a subgroup like frequent voters.
Second is to be regularly reminded that there are certain things we Oregonians agree on regardless of our political party, race and where we live, and these values and beliefs represent the common ground we can stand on together to rise above the divides and make our state better at the local, regional and state levels.
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is about hearing from all Oregonians and amplifying their voices to identify what unites us and to better understand what divides us.
What will distinguish OVBC's work from most other opinion research conducted in Oregon is how the research studies are designed and administered. We will ask questions of the general population, not just voters or even more narrowly, likely voters. Importantly, this includes hard-to-reach populations like younger Oregonians, communities of color and rural Oregonians.
Another distinction will be the use of stratified sampling rather that proportional sampling to assure that organizations in all regions of the state, not just the Portland metro area and the Willamette Valley, have enough valid and statistically reliable data to help them build stronger communities. This includes information to assist with needs assessments, program evaluation and public involvement.
And finally, we will not be working for clients looking to support a position. Rather, we are a nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization which conducts nonpartisan opinion research to assist public, private and nonprofit organizations.
For the next 12 months, we will be collaborating with Pamplin Media Group, EO Media and other news outlets in what we're calling the Oregon Values & Voices project.
The goal is to build OVBC's capacity to reach all Oregonians and to assure that the resulting research does not just end up sitting on a shelf. The research is important. But it's only the first step. We need to use our independent, trusted journalists to use those findings to tell stories, connect the dots to not only describe how people are feeling about things but also why they are feeling that way.
OVBC has started rising above the political mudslinging and partisanship to identify some common ground:
• Oregonians want our leaders to address the same issues
• We value the same things about living in our community, with natural beauty and environmental quality being at the top of the list
• We feel the same about which public services are most important
• We all support a public safety net for vulnerable children and seniors
The Oregon Values & Voices collaboration will produce truly independent and nonpartisan research and reporting that will inform Oregonians working to build stronger communities across the state. We want to help Oregonians learn how to better talk to each other and not past each other. Again, we want to shine a light on what unites us and to better understand what divides us, all in the hope of giving us a greater chance to successfully address our challenges.
Adam Davis is co-founder of DHM Research, an independent, nonpartisan firm, and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. He has been conducting opinion research in Oregon for more than 40 years.
More than a penny for your thoughts
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Centers is committed to the highest level of public opinion research. To help obtain that, the nonprofit is building a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.
Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more visit https://oregonvbc.org/about-the-panel/ and join the panel.
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