More than half of Portland voters would support changing the city’s form of government as frustration with city leaders mounts, according to an annual poll released on Monday by the region’s largest chamber of commerce.
Portland-based DHM Research conducted the poll for the Portland Business Alliance from Dec. 9-15. Pollsters surveyed 500 voters registered in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Half lived in Portland. Questions related specifically to the Portland city government were only asked to city residents.
The margin of error for the questions that were asked to the 250 person sample of Portland residents is plus or minus 6.2%. The margin of error for the questions asked to all 500 voters is plus or minus 4.4%.
Of the surveyed Portland voters, 81% said they felt the city council was not effectively providing services to constituents — a jump of 26 percentage points from December of 2020. Roughly three-fourths of voters pinned the blame on poor leadership from the City Council as well as the city’s unusual commission form of government.
In Portland, council members are elected citywide and serve as both legislators and executives; each oversees a portfolio of bureaus assigned by the mayor. Opponents say the form of government is deeply flawed, leaving power consolidated in the hands of wealthy Portlanders and commissioners in charge of services they often have little expertise supervising.
Portland’s unusual form of government dates back to 1913. Portland is now the last major U.S. city with a commission form of government.
Last year, city leaders seated a once-a-decade commission to review the charter and examine changing the form of government. The charter commission has said they will consider shifting away from at-large elections for city council seats and toward a form of government in which commissioners do not directly manage bureaus.
The group has the power to comb through the charter and recommend changes. If 15 or more of the 20 members agree on an amendment, they can put it to voters through a ballot measure.
Portlanders have repeatedly voted against changing their form of government. Since voting to adopt the commission form in 1913, voters have been asked six times if they want to change course. Each time, they rebuffed the idea.
The new polling suggests public sentiment may have changed as frustration with City Hall grows. Only 8% of Portland voters said they would oppose shifting to a unified government with a city manager that reported to council. Thirty-six percent said they didn’t know and 56% supported the idea.
Shifting to district elections for city council members instead of citywide ones also appeared popular with potential voters. Critics have argued citywide elections create obstacles to a diverse council as citywide campaigns are expensive and have historically left people of color and residents of East Portland underrepresented.
The poll found 70%of surveyed Portland supported shifting to district elections. Only 4% opposed, down from 19% in 2019.
Frustration with state of region
The poll suggested voters are united around the top issues facing the city.
88% of voters polled across the region now say that quality of life is deteriorating — a jump from 49% in 2017. Concerns about homelessness and crime fueled the frustration with 45% of voters painting homelessness as the top problem facing the region and 24% pointing to crime.
“We have been conducting annual voter sentiment in the region for years, and never have we seen such unequivocal alignment in the priorities that our community is asking elected officials to execute,” Portland Business Alliance President Andrew Hoan said in a statement.
The two city commissioners up for reelection are bearing the brunt of voter anger, and election prospects for the two incumbents appear grim, at least according to the poll results. Roughly two in 10 Portland voters said they’d reelect Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is seeking a second term after being elected the first Black woman to become a commissioner in 2018. Fifty-four percent of Portland voters said they planned to vote for someone other than Hardesty while 28% were unsure.
One in 10 voters said they would vote for Ryan, who won his seat through a special election in 2020. Thirty-four percent wanted someone else while 56% were unsure.
Ballots in the primary election are due May 17.