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Poll: Oregonians Want PERS Change, But Aren't 'Paying Attention' To Issue

OPB | April 30, 2013 10 p.m. | Updated: May 1, 2013 7:35 a.m. | Portland

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More than 60 percent of Oregonians think that the Public Employees Retirement System needs to be restructured — according to a new OPB/Fox 12 poll.

But at the same time, 77 percent of people don’t know about legislative plans for PERS changes.

The poll also looked at the views of Oregonians on many controversial issues including: gun control, same-sex marriage, the Columbia River Crossing and the economy.

John Horvick of DHM Research

John Horvick of DHM Research

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Last week, Oregon House Democrats managed to pass a bill that would cut PERS by $460 million over the next two years — and to postpone another $350 million in payments.

John Horvick of DHM Research, conducted the poll and says by this weekend only 18 percent of Oregonians knew Democrats had even proposed a plan to restructure PERS.

“So, on one of the highest profile issues that the legislature has been dealing with this session, most voters tell us that they’re just not paying attention.”

But Doreen Shine, a retired executive assistant from Gresham, has been paying attention — and she has a strong opinion.

“Something definitely needs to be changed for the PERS system. Even the private sector has changed the way they treat retirement and how we fund our money into it and how it’s paid out.”

She was among the 61 percent of voters who said PERS needs to be restructured.

The OPB/Fox 12 poll asked voters about reforms being considered by the Oregon Legislature around gun control.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Sixty percent said they would favor expanded background checks for private gun sales and transfers. 

And 59 percent said they’d be in favor of allowing school districts to ban firearms on school grounds.

“So there is support for some gun control legislation. However, Oregon voters tell us that they might not be willing to support some more restrictions including the ban on the sale and possession of high capacity ammunition clips and the ban on the sale of assault weapons,” pollster John Horvick said.

Respondents split 49-46 against the sale and possession of high capacity ammunition clips. They also split 47-47 on the ban and sale of assault weapons.

The poll also looked at views on the Columbia River Crossing project. The so-called CRC would replace the existing I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver.

Forty-five percent of respondents support the project. Twenty-nine percent don’t.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Horvick was surprised at how many people simply didn’t know about it.

“So as long as we’ve been talking about this. As much as this has been in the news, we still have a quarter of Oregon voters who don’t have an opinion on CRC.”

Horvick says part of the reason may be that the Columbia River Crossing is in the northwest of Oregon — miles away from towns like Medford, Klamath Falls and Pendleton.

The telephone poll sampled 500 Oregon voters and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percent.

It also surveyed people about a number of different political figures, organizations and institutions.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents say they have a favorable view of the state legislature.

Governor Kitzhaber fares considerably better.

Forty-two percent of respondents have a favorable view of his work. And if an election were held today, 38 percent said they’d vote for him.

“So he’s in a good position. But not a great position. These aren’t numbers that tell you that some Republican candidate couldn’t jump into the race and make it  competitive. But right now, you would have to consider the Governor the leader,” Horvick said.

Oregonians had a 68 percent favorable or neutral view of Oregon’s business community; a 44 percent favorable or neutral view of Oregon’s private sector labor unions; and only a 27 percent favorable or neutral view of Congress.

The poll also asked people whether they favored or opposed changing the Oregon Constitution to allow same-sex marriage.

Forty-nine percent favored the idea.  Bernard Coyles, a retired chemistry professor living in Wilsonville, is among them.

“I don’t know why I would have any objections to it. As far as I’m concerned if gay people want to call their relationship marriage, it’s fine by me.”

But Elizabeth Berry, who is retired and lives in Sumpter, is among the 42 percent who oppose same-sex marriage.

“It’s ridiculous. You are modifying what’s been happening since 6000 BC in Mesopotamia. I mean marriage is between a man and a woman for the continuation of the species.”

Pollster John Horvick says the answers expose deep partisan differences: with 72 percent of Democrats favoring same-sex marriage while only 19 percent of Republicans favor of the idea.

And Horvick says there’s a generational division, too.

“We see very big age difference as well. Where 18-to-34 year olds, 67 percent would support changing the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, versus just 37 percent of 55-and-older voters. And so getting younger voters to turn out at an election is going to be very key for proponents of same-sex marriage.”

Finally, the OPB/Fox 12 poll looked at the economy.

Forty percent of Oregonians feel the state is on the right track. Retired seamstress Mardelle Fugere is one of the 43 percent who say it’s on the wrong track. She says the government is spending money it doesn’t have.

“There’s a collapse that occurs when that happens.”

Horvick says the tracking figures have been stagnant at around 40 percent for a while.

“In the late 1990’s early 2000’s we saw right track numbers in the 60 to 65 percent range.  After September 11th we’ve really been in a pattern for the last decade where we’ve been right about that 40 percent right track and 40 percent wrong direction and about 20 percent unsure. But Oregon’s really been stuck in that pattern for the last decade.”

Horvick says the numbers are closely tied to finances. The better the economy is, the higher percentage of people feel the state is headed in the right direction.

Poll Questions, Responses And Methodology (.pdf)

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