Poll: Voters support some Portland-area tax measures — oppose others

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Oct. 20, 2020 1 p.m.

Survey shows support for Portland Public Schools improvements, opposition to Multnomah County Library bond, and narrow lead for regional transportation tax.

With a crowded November ballot, voters in the Portland metro area appear to support some some local ballot measures, and oppose others, according to a recent survey.

DHM Research, from Oct. 7 to 11, surveyed 1,000 likely voters across the Portland region on behalf of OPB. Researchers set quotas to incorporate likely voters of differing age, location, race, gender, political affiliation, income and education that would match the likely turnout of the November election. The margin of error for the entire region was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.


Related: OPB’s 2020 election coverage, ballot guide and results

Multiple measures in Portland, Multnomah County and the wider tri-county region that includes Clackamas and Washington counties are asking voters to consider raising property taxes, and taxing some business payrolls as well as the incomes of higher earners — all in the midst of a pandemic.

Portland-specific tax measures are receiving generally strong support, according to DHM’s survey results.

In its survey, DHM polled 400 likely voters in Portland about Portland specific ballot measures. The margin of error for that group was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

The $1.2 billion Portland Public Schools bond measure, which would go toward repairing and modernizing schools and replacing technology and curriculum, is up by nearly 40 points. That measure received the broadest support out of any of the tax measures – 64% yes to 25% no, according to surveyed voters.

Poll: Portland-area funding measures

Source: A DHM Research phone and online poll of 400 likely Portland voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

If passed, the measure would maintain the current property tax rate from a previous bond that voters approved back in 2017.

The Portland parks levy, which would provide Portland’s park bureau with approximately $48 million each year for five years, is also in a strong position, according to DHM. That measure received 53% yes to 33% no from surveyed voters. If passed, the measure would cost the median Portland homeowner $151 per year, according to the measure filing.

John Horvick, director of client relations and political research at DHM, said supporters of those measures, and others fairing well in polling, should be encouraged by those leads, but noted funding measures often tend to lose support as Election Day nears.

“It’s sort of a classic public opinion trend,” Horvick said. “It’s easier to say you’re going to pay for something in the abstract, distant future, then as it gets closer it’s harder to fill in that ‘yes’ box and know your taxes are going to go up.”

Outside of Portland’s city limits, tax measures generally had weaker support among surveyed voters, with the exception of the Multnomah County “Preschool for All” measure, which had a sizeable lead. That measure would establish a tuition-free preschool program by taxing high income earners, if passed. Fifty-three percent of surveyed voters said they would vote yes on the measure and 36% responded no.

Horvick said, depending on the outcome of that ballot measure, it could show the region leaning more toward income taxes as a viable form of funding.

“Oregon has historically relied on property taxes to fund,” Horvick said. But back in May, voters greenlit an income tax on high earners to fund homeless services in the region.

In the DHM survey, when asked which mechanism is the best way to pay for local government programs and services, 28% of respondents in the metro area said income taxes. That was followed by employer payroll taxes (25%) and property taxes (21%).

“We know that voters are frustrated that high income people aren’t ‘paying their share’ and large companies aren’t ‘paying their share,’ and now we have a mechanism that voters are saying they approve of,” Horvick said.

Poll: What’s the best way to fund government?

Source: A DHM Research phone and online poll of 400 likely Portland voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Of all the poll results on tax measures on the November ballot, Horvick said he was most surprised by the Multnomah County library bond measure.

That measure was found to be losing by five points, with 39% of respondents saying they would vote yes and 44% no. It was the tax measure that was fairing the worst in the DHM survey.

If passed, the measure would use $387 million in general obligation bonds to modernize, expand and renovate some county libraries, build a flagship library in East Multnomah County and add internet speed to all libraries, among other costs. Multnomah County estimates the average cost of the nine-year bond to be $0.61 per $1,000 of assessed value for homeowners.

The measure had no voting group with majority support, including Democrats, of whom only 47% were in support of the library measure, according to DHM.

“$387 million is a lot of money,” Horvick said. “[Also], people aren’t going to the physical library right now and maybe feel that they won’t for a while; that could also be a reason.”

The one tax measure that would affect the entire Portland metro area is the multi-billion dollar transportation measure referred to the November ballot by Metro – the regionally elected government for Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

It’s leading by a narrow margin, with 47% of surveyed voters saying they’d vote “yes” and 42% of respondents saying “no.”

“Proponents of that measure should absolutely not feel good about that lead,” Horvick said. “Being less than 50% and only a five-point margin, this is when the negative information is going to arrive in people’s mailboxes, on TV and social media.”

Poll: Metro transportation measure

Source: A DHM Research phone and online poll of 400 likely Portland voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

“It absolutely could still pass, but it’s in a lot of trouble,” he said.

If passed, that measure would place a tax of up to 0.75% on the payrolls of certain employers, exempting businesses with 25 or fewer employees and local governments.

The measure would allocate nearly $4 billion toward projects in areas across the metro region, according to estimates. An additional $1 billion would go to regional programs, including free youth transit passes. And, in addition to local funding, Metro expects the higher tax collections would allow it to leverage more than $2 billion in federal or state funding, making the transportation plan worth roughly $7 billion total.

The measure has received pushback from large and influential companies including Nike and Intel.

In its survey, DHM asked voters what the most important problem facing their community is currently. At the top of the list was homelessness, COVID-19 and racism. Transportation issues were not shown on that list, and only about 1% of respondents had said they considered traffic to be a problem, Horvick noted.

“I don’t think voters think we’ve solved traffic,” he said. “But, I think it’s harder to go to voters to ask for money for something they’re not seeing as a problem right now.”

Support for that transportation measure is also varying widely from county to county, according to DHM’s survey. The margin of error varied by county, but all were under plus or minus 4.9%.

Support is highest in Multnomah County, with respondents there answering 55% yes and 34% no. In Washington County, results were about split – with 43% yes and 45% no. In Clackamas County, that gap widened with 35% yes and 53% no.

Because of Metro’s jurisdictional boundary — which basically encompasses the urban growth boundary — not every resident of Clackamas and Washington counties will be voting on this measure. Residents in Gaston or Estacada, for example, are not included.

“It’s really tough to pass a regional tax measure without the tax friendly community supporting it,” Horvick noted. “It’s going to get crushed by Clackamas County.”

Demographically, the greatest support for the transportation measure regionwide is coming from young voters, from ages 18-29, who were 62% in favor of the measure, and voters with incomes less than $25,000 per year, who favored it by 64%.

DHM only surveyed people who said they were likely to vote, but, Horvick pointed out, those voting groups in support of the transportation measure historically have the lowest turnout rates.

You can see DHM’s survey methodology here and the cross-tabs here.

This is a link to OPB's election coverage, ballot guide and results.