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Post-Election Poll Shows Deep Rural, Urban Divide In Oregon

Last month’s election was more about a rejection of Democrats than an endorsement of Republicans — according to a new poll released Friday by OPB and Fox 12.

The poll also found deep political differences between voters in cities  and people living in the more rural parts of the state.

But, as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, there was some agreement among Oregonians as to what the legislature might do to address state finances.

Polls are a dime-a-dozen before an election. But Adam Davis of pollsters Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall says, we don’t usually find out how people feel after all the dust has settled.

Adam Davis: “We wanted to check back with voters after the election to see how they felt about the outcome. How did they feel about the candidates. What was the real message of the election and see if there are some lessons to be learnt.”

About 400 people were polled November 18 through 22. The poll had a margin of error of about 5 percent.

The first question asked people how optimistic they are that the new state legislature will be able to make significant progress. 51 percent were optimistic. But 48 percent weren’t.

That’s a lot of doubt says Davis.

Adam Davis: “What really jumped out at us was how much more pessimistic people in rural Oregon are.”

Only 38 percent of rural Oregonians say they are optimistic about the future.

Leanna May is a full-time nurse bringing up a family in LaGrande. A Republican, May says she’s pessimistic because Oregonians voted in a governor who proved he couldn’t change things  last time he was in office.

She says LaGrande’s economy is hurting. But despite the bad economy, she says she still sees irresponsibility and waste.

Leanna May: “I see people on government assistance who have nicer cell phones than I do. Blackberries. Who are buying cigarettes, alcohol, have a million tattoos. All these things that cost extra money that they don’t need and I’m feeding their children. It’s ridiculous.”

Democrats tended to be significantly more optimistic than Republicans that the Oregon legislature and new governor will be able to make significant progress.

But overall,  pessimism remains when voters are asked whether Oregon’s new crop of politicians will know how to fix things.

Adam Davis: “What we have here are four out of every ten voters telling us that the candidates used the issues facing the state more as talking points for their campaigns. And really they were doubtful they had any good solid ideas as to how to handle the issues.”

Tamra Wood: “I really don’t think that they have the skill set that they really need to handle the problems we’ve got. We have a real lack of critical thinking skills in almost all of the branches. Half of the time they don’t even read the bill.”

Tamra Wood lives in Baker City and has just graduated from Eastern Oregon University with a bachelors in marketing and business.

Tamra Wood: “If you’ve been in there six or 10 years and you haven’t solved the problem. Go home.” 

That feeling is echoed in the survey. It found 63 percent of respondents felt the election was about a rejection of the Democrats’ approach to the economy, rather than an endorsement of Republican positions.

In fact, 70 percent said they’d support an open primary system — that’s when all voters get a ballot containing the names of all candidates. And they could vote for who ever they want — regardless of party affiliation.

Adam Davis: “It shows you that there are a lot of people that are just fed-up with politics as usual and they want to see some changes.”

The poll found that an impressive 88 percent of respondents agreed times are too difficult to focus on partisan differences.

So the question is, what kind of legislative actions can Oregonians agree on?

Pollsters found some illuminating answers — particularly around the issue of public employees.

For example, 87 percent of respondents agree public employee layoffs should be based partly on performance and not just seniority.

55 percent felt we should abolish the automatic pay increases many public employees get when they successfully complete another year in their job. And another 57 percent agree that state employees should pay half of their pension contributions.

Adam Davis: “It’s clear to me that the voters in Oregon at this time support some changes to public employee compensation and benefits.”

It’s clear to many government workers too.

Heather Conroy, the executive director of the local Service Employees International Union, says state workers are prepared to be a part of the solution to the budget crisis.

Heather Conroy: “We’re eager to work with the new governor. But it’s equally important that we respect and remember that these are the front line workers who do the work that we value deeply. Whether that’s taking care of seniors in their homes. Or taking care of children in the child welfare system. Time and again we see that polls say these are services that we value and we believe that the workers that provide those services should be compensated fairly.”

The OPB Fox 12 poll looked at some other ideas to boost state coffers — with mixed results.

For example, 73 percent of respondents opposed a five percent surcharge on their income tax — to help prevent worse cuts.

64 percent also agreed the state shouldn’t consolidate all Oregon’s seven universities  into a single system — with one CEO and common finances.

The perennial question of the kicker was also polled. That’s a law that returns money to tax payers when tax collections exceed state estimates by 2% or more.

The poll found 52 percent of people would be open to the state putting some of the kicker into a rainy day fund for tough times.

Adam Davis: “There’s a narrow majority of people willing to look at kicker law reform. It’s narrow. There’s no mandate out there. I think having that knowledge going into the next session is valuable to have.”

Kicker reform has come up before. Governor Kulongoski had a plan earlier this year. But like so many efforts before, it met a wall of opposition.

Pollster Adam Davis says voters of all stripes aren’t getting what they want from politicians.

Adam Davis: “We just see a negativity towards government like we’ve never measured before. And it’s driven by more than just waste and inefficiency. It’s driven by more than big government is intruding in my life. It’s also a frustration that nothing is getting done. That these problems are getting worse.”

The 2011 Oregon legislative session convenes in January.

Poll Results

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