Oregon Gov. Kate Brown holds a tenuous lead over gubernatorial challenger Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, while four hotly contested ballot measures are struggling to win over voters.

That’s the bottom line of a new poll conducted for OPB in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election.

In this May 15, 2018, file photo, Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown sports a green Vote T-shirt as she greets students during a "get out the vote" gathering at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

In this May 15, 2018, file photo, Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown sports a green Vote T-shirt as she greets students during a “get out the vote” gathering at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

Don Ryan/AP

The telephone poll of 500 Oregon voters found that many are undecided or less than firm in their choices. And many acknowledged that they aren’t closely watching the Oregon elections.

Ballots hit mailboxes this week.

The Oct. 4-11 survey found that Brown, a Democrat, has the support of 40 percent of voters while Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon and state representative from Bend, is at 35 percent.

Another 17 percent are undecided, four percent say they support Independent Party cabinetmaker Patrick Starnes, and the rest are scattered among the other three candidates on the ballot.

The poll’s margin of error is 4.4 percentage points.

Other highlights from the poll include:

  • Half of the voters say they oppose a measure to ban state funding for abortion. Measure 106 would bar low-income women from getting abortions through the Oregon Health Plan, except in limited cases.  It would also curb abortion coverage for public employees in their health insurance. At this point, 31 percent are in favor and 50 percent are opposed.
  • Measure 105, which would overturn Oregon’s 31-year-old “sanctuary” law that limits local and state police from enforcing federal immigrant policies, is also struggling with voters. At this point, 32 percent say they’re in favor and 45 percent are opposed.
  • Voters are also casting a wary eye on two tax-related initiatives. Measure 103, which would ban new taxes on groceries, is backed by 33 percent of voters and opposed by 47 percent.  Measure 104, which broadens existing state policies requiring legislative supermajorities for new revenue to include all taxes and fees, is backed by 28 percent and opposed by 37 percent.

A Tight Race For Governor

Pollster John Horvick, who conducted the poll for Portland-based DHM Research, said he is not surprised that many voters haven’t yet settled on a gubernatorial candidate.

“These are two candidates that don’t inspire a great deal of enthusiasm,” Horvick said of Brown and Buehler, who have already made this the most expensive governor’s race in Oregon history.

The poll found that 35 percent of those supporting Brown said they had a “very positive” image of her. But 56 percent of her supporters said they were only “somewhat positive” about her. And 3 percent were “somewhat negative.”

Buehler also had a tepid reaction among voters supporting him. Nineteen percent said they were “very positive” about him while 50 percent were only “somewhat positive.” Another 11 percent had a negative view of him, and 20 percent said they didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion.

Horvick said that in focus groups, many Brown supporters struggle to name any of her major accomplishments.

“It’s not so much that they’re angry at her, but it’s just that she hasn’t energized them,” he said.

For his part, Buehler has run a carefully modulated campaign that emphasizes his moderate social views and desire to improve the public schools, the health care system and foster care.

He occasionally criticizes President Donald Trump and makes it clear he didn’t vote for the president. That attitude toward the president and his support for abortion rights helped keep him under 50 percent in his Republican Party primary win against nine other underfunded candidates.

The OPB poll shows that Buehler is now backed by 76 percent of GOP voters, somewhat low for a Republican nominee. But he does pick up 12 percent of Democrats and almost evenly splits with Brown the support of voters who are non-affiliated or registered in a third party. Horvick projects that these voters outside the two big parties will cast about 30 percent of the ballots in the election, making them a crucial swing bloc.

The large percentage of undecided voters – and the fact that many supporters of the two candidates say their vote isn’t certain – provides a large dose of unpredictability in the race. 

Horvick noted that the survey did not ask voters who were undecided if they were leaning toward one of the candidates. Following that practice would have reduced the undecided percentages but usually doesn’t have much impact on the spread between the candidates.

Voters Wary Of Ballot Measures

In regards to the four ballot measures, all now appear to face uphill climbs of various steepness.

More On Oregon Ballot Measures: 103 | 104 | 105 | 106

“Over and over again,” Horvick said, “I think we see that if people don’t feel passionate about an issue or don’t understand an issue or feel like they’re being manipulated about an issue, that their first reaction is to say ‘no.’”

That may be the case with these four measures, all placed on the ballot through signature drives. They are all proposed constitutional amendments and have official captions that could raise questions in the minds of many voters.

Backers of Measure 103, which would ban new grocery taxes, have a well-funded campaign and are advertising heavily on TV. But opponents also have enough money to get out their message that the measure could have a number of unintended consequences.

The supermajority initiative, Measure 104, also pitches many elements of the business community against organized labor.

However, supporters of the measures aimed at abortion and the state’s sanctuary law on immigration are both being heavily outspent by opponents.

One other measure on the ballot – referred by the Legislature — does appear to be in strong position to win. Measure 102 would give governments more flexibility in how they use affordable housing bond money.

The measure is backed by 46 percent of voters and opposed by 26 percent. Proponents say they think it will increase the number of homes that they can build through these programs. There is no organized opposition campaign.

Approval Ratings Dip (Mostly) Across The Board

The poll also found that voters listed education, health care, taxes, jobs and the economy as their top concerns.

And it suggests that President Trump’s approval rating in Oregon has appeared to tick upward this year. A January poll for OPB found that 36 percent of Oregon voters gave him positive marks, compared to 41 percent now.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, remains the state’s most popular politician. But his approval rating has appeared to decline during the Trump era. He’s now at 54 percent, compared to 60 percent in early 2016.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is considering seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, is viewed favorably by 45 percent of voters. Another 28 percent view him negatively and 27 percent don’t have an opinion about him or don’t know who he is.

Brown’s approval rating is now at 45 percent, down from a high of 50 percent in February of 2016. What’s really changed is her unfavorable rating, which climbed during that time from 29 percent to 45 percent.

Many top officials in Oregon politics remain largely unknown to voters.  About three-quarters say they don’t know enough about Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, to have an opinion of them, or they don’t know who the two legislative leaders are.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who ran for governor in 2014 and became the first statewide Republican officeholder in more than a decade when he was elected in 2016, is more well-known. But just over half of voters didn’t venture an opinion of him.

Overall, 42 percent of voters say the state is on the right track – a measurable decline from the 49 percent who said that was the case in January.

OPB Election Coverage 2018

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Oregon Gubernatorial Candidates

Oregon Ballot Measures

Portland Metro Ballot Measures

Portland City Council Race

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