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Portland pollster says politics changed over the past 10 years, even though election results looked predictable.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The homeless crisis emerged as the top issue in Portland, the region and the state over the past decade.Based only on election results, Oregon and the rest of Portland seem to have been a reliably liberal Democratic stronghold over the past 10 years. Only one Republican, the late former Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, won a statewide office during that time. Democrats have controlled the Oregon Legislature. And no conservative was elected to the City Council or Multnomah County Commission.

But polling by the DHM Research firm reveals growing political turmoil beneath the surface as issues have changed and voters have lost confidence in the future. The shifts are confirmed by the decade-long increase in the number of third-party and non-affiliated voters, which now total more than either registered Democrats and Republicans in Oregon.

"At some point, (Democratic dominance) might not be sustainable," said John Horvick, DHM's director of client relations and political research.

It should be no surprise that voters' concerns have changed with the economy. Following the Great Recession that started in 2007, jobs and the economy were the top issues that voters wanted state leaders to address at the beginning of the decade. In 2010, 42% of voters said the biggest issues the state should address were economy/jobs/unemployment.

But as the economy recovered, other issues became greater priorities. Now, according to DHM polling for the Oregon Voices Project, the top issues in all parts of the state are homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

That is confirmed by a statewide survey completed by PI Research after the 2019 Oregon Legislature that found 75% of residents consider housing costs and homelessness to be "very important" and "critically important."

More surprising is the partisan divide that preceded the election of Donald Trump as president. The state was splitting dramatically years before the polarizing New York businessman unexpectedly beat establishment insider Hillary Clinton in 2016. Today, 50% of Oregonians says the state is heading in the right direction. But that figure disguises a growing split between Democrats and Republicans.

In 2008, approximately 30% of both Democrats and Republicans felt Oregon was heading in the right direction. But by 2019, the portion of Democrats feeling that way had increased to around 60%, while the portion of Republicans who agreed was still at about 30% after bottoming out at about 10% in 2010.

According to Horvick, the split coincided with the start of the Great Recession and the election of Barack Obama as president, although he said there's no way to prove direct links.

Unlike Oregon, faith in the future of Portland actually declined over the past 10 years, according to the polling. In 2013, 61% said the city was moving in the right direction and just 27% said it was on the wrong track. But by 2018, the gap had closed to just 10 points. Only 47% said Portland was moving in the right direction and 37% said it was on the wrong track.

And over the past decade, the portion of Oregon voters belonging to the two major parties has declined while the number of third-party and unaffiliated voters has increased. Today, only 35% of voters are registered Democrats and 25% are Republicans. But 40% are now registered to third parties or are unaffiliated.

Washington Post readers pick stories of the decade

In mid-December, "The Daily 202," an email-based political newsletter from the Washington Post, asked readers to list "The 12 biggest storylines of the 2010s." They included:

• Climate change, from Paris to the pullout.

• Changing perceptions of how technology (especially social media) will affect freedom.

• The aftershocks of the Great Recession.

• The collapse of post-World War II global order, and the rise of China.

• The #MeToo movement, and another "Year of the Woman."

• The legalization of same-sex marriage.

• Black Lives Matter, and a backlash to the first black president.

• The immigration wars.

• The fight over Obamacare.

• The conservative takeover of the judiciary.

• Dark money flooded into politics after the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

• The failure to address an epidemic of gun violence.


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