New polling indicates there is some open support, and potentially stronger sympathy, for the aims of white supremacy movements in Oregon.
The shifts were noted in findings released Thursday, June 10, by the Western States Center, an organization based in Portland that promotes values of inclusive democracy.
"What we are seeing are white nationalist and paramilitary movements that are spreading bigotry to build political power," said Lindsay Schubiner, the center's program director. "There is a lot that can be done by elected officials to close that political space for them to operate by speaking out whenever this type of bigotry arises and addressing these issues in policy by working toward equity."
Strong majorities, however, support protection of a national multicultural heritage and action against racial discrimination.
The polling was conducted by DHM Research of Portland and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. Some of the questions requested by the Western States Center coincide with work by DHM Research and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center into Oregon issues. Pamplin Media Group has reported some of the findings that resulted from those surveys.
The responses to a January survey were compared with those to similarly worded questions asked of a DHM Research panel in 2018. But the composition of the 2018 panel was more educated, more urban and older than Oregon as a whole.
Participants in the January survey reflect Oregon as a whole, although geographically, they were classified as metro (Portland), Willamette Valley and the rest of the state. The three Portland area counties account for more than 40% of Oregon's population.
Key findings on race from the January survey:
• 40% of the sample said they somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement, "America must protect and preserve its white European heritage," compared with 31% in a 2018 survey.
• In contrast, 86% of the sample said they somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement that America must protect its multicultural heritage, down slightly from 92% in 2018.
• 39% of the sample said they somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement, "White people in America face discrimination and unfair treatment based on race." But 75% of the sample said they agreed that people of color face discrimination and unfair treatment based on race.
• Public support for Black Lives Matter was at 58% in January, down from a peak of 66% in July 2020, after the murder of George Floyd by a now-former Minneapolis police officer and the protests it touched off nationwide. The 2018 panel had support at 54%.
• Open support for paramilitary or militia groups was at 14%, and for white nationalists, 11%. Support for the latter has risen from 6% in two recent surveys. But strong majorities, ranging from 68% to 74%, reject support for paramilitary or militia groups and support laws to bar heavily armed people at protests.
A total of 603 people age 18 and older responded to an online survey between Jan. 8 and 13. The margin of error is 4 percentage points. The survey took an average of 15 minutes to complete.
The survey also touched on how people felt satisfied — or not — with how democracy is working in the United States. Some of these questions also were relevant to the work of the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.
Just under half (49%) of Oregon respondents said they were very or somewhat satisfied, compared with 47% nationally. Younger people were more skeptical, older people less so. The breakdown by age: 18-29, 44%, 30-44, 45%; 45-64, 50%, and 65 and older, 62%.
"There is rising dissatisfaction with democracy, especially among young Oregonians, just as white nationalist and paramilitary groups work to undermine inclusive democratic governance from the local level to state and federal levels," Schubiner said.
"There is widespread recognition of the harm that political violence and harassment tactics significantly relied on by white nationalist and paramilitary groups to civic participation — businesses, democracy and the economy. This may give elected officials a fair amount of leeway, in public opinion at least, to take action against the harm that armed paramilitary groups pose."
Democracy and protests
Asked if democracy had grown weaker in the past four years, 70% in a national survey and 57% in the DHM Oregon survey said it had. There was no single cause pinpointed, but Republican legislative walkouts in 2019 and 2020 and continued political infighting at state and federal legislative levels were mentioned as negatives. A positive factor mentioned in Oregon was the conduct of elections, particularly mail ballots, which have been used statewide since 2000 and made Oregon the first state to do so.
As for protests, 89% of those sampled in Oregon said the law should be applied equally with regard to protesters, and 79% said violent protests weaken democracy. Only 41% agreed that police actions and federal intervention against protests weaken democracy, though that figure was higher among the Portland metro sample.
A plurality (39%) said violent protests are caused by "bad actors." Smaller numbers say they are caused by far left (14%) or far right (13%) protesters, and only 8% specified police. More than a fifth (22%) said they did not know.
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