A new independent Oregon survey finds that Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has a clear lead over Republican challenger Knute Buehler — and that an initiative to abolish the state’s sanctuary law for immigrants has little support so far.
The Sept. 12–13 survey of 680 likely Oregon voters by the Hoffman Research Group of Portland showed the Democratic governor holding a 10-percentage point lead over Buehler, a state representative from Bend. That's a stronger result for her than a pair of summer polls that suggested the race was essentially tied.
On the sanctuary state initiative — Measure 105 — the poll found that just 31 percent of voters support it, compared to 50 percent who are opposed. The measure would overturn the 3-decades-old state law that limits state and local police from enforcing federal immigration law.
Pollster Tim Nashif, who heads the market research firm, has been active in Republican politics in the state. But he says he conducted the survey independently from any political group — and his findings provide little comfort for Republicans seeking to end their 32-year losing streak in Oregon gubernatorial elections.
Brown in recent weeks has stepped up her advertising, firing back at TV commercials from both Buehler and a third-party group that had attacked her.
‘There’s something that has taken place in the last couple of weeks, because he has seemed to slip a little bit,” Nashif said.
The Buehler campaign declined to comment on the survey. But Republicans officials were quick to release portions of a poll conducted for No Supermajorities PAC, which is helping fund GOP legislative campaigns.
That Sept. 6-11 survey of 2,831 voters, by Causeway Solutions of Washington, D.C., showed Buehler at 43 percent and Brown at 41 percent. The margin of error is just under 2 percentage points.
Preston Mann, co-director of the PAC, said he thought his group’s poll provided a much more accurate picture of the race.
“I’m extremely confident in the numbers we got back,” he said.
Brown’s campaign spokesman, Christian Gaston, said he was encouraged by the results of Nashif’s survey and said he thought Brown’s support was strong as voters learned more about the race.
Nashif's survey shows Brown with 46 percent and Buehler with 36 percent.
So far, both candidates have won the support of about three-quarters of voters registered in their own parties. But there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, and Brown also has stronger levels of support among voters who are non-affiliated or registered in third parties. All told, 40 percent of those voters said they backed Brown while 33 percent favored Buehler.
Nashif’s survey also included the three other candidates on the ballot. Independent Patrick Starnes received support from 4 percent of voters while Libertarian Nick Chen had 1 percent and Constitution Party nominee Aaron Auer had 1 percent.
Another 12 percent of voters remain undecided, according to the poll. When those undecided voters were pushed to decide today, Brown and Buehler each would pick up another 3 percentage points.
Nashif said there’s still plenty of time for the dynamics of the race to change before the Nov. 6 election. He noted that his poll found that 45 percent of voters didn’t know enough about Buehler to have an opinion of him or that they had never heard of him at all.
That gives Buehler an opportunity to grow his support before ballots hit mailboxes in late October. But it also means that Brown and Democrats can fill in a negative impression of the Republican candidate before many voters get to know him.
Although Buehler last month received a $1 million donation from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Brown has had a financial advantage in the race. The latest disclosure reports showed she had $4.3 million in the bank compared to $1.6 million for Buehler.
At this point, voters are as likely to have a negative view of the two candidates as they are a positive image.
For Brown, 42 percent said they have a favorable impression of her compared to 41 percent with a negative view. For Buehler, 27 percent gave him positive marks and the same percentage rated him unfavorably.
On the sanctuary state measure, supporters have mounted little advertising. And Democrats in the state have lined up against the measure while tying it to President Donald Trump’s tough policies to limit both legal and illegal immigration.
In addition, Nashif said the ballot title for the measure “is a little confusing,” which could lead voters to take the “no” side and stick with the status quo.
“If [supporters] think they are going to win on the merits of this ballot title,” he said, “there’s no chance.”
The ballot title states that the measure “repeals laws limiting use of state or local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration law.”
The poll shows Measure 105 running well behind in all five of the state’s congressional district and among all age groups and among both men and women. Republicans support the measure, but not overwhelmingly. Forty-eight percent of GOP voters are in favor, while 29 percent are opposed and 24 percent are undecided.
Cynthia Kendoll of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which is leading the campaign for the measure, said she found it "hard to believe" that only 31 percent of voters backed her measure since the "response to it has been so overwhelming."
She did say that it is easier to run a campaign urging voters to reject a measure. "The onus is on us to educate people," she said.
Andrea Williams, chair of the No on 105 campaign, said her group has been confident voters would reject the ballot measure.
"What we do know is that an overwhelming number of Oregonians reject the idea of racial profiling," she said, referring to the original impetus behind passage of the law in the 1980s.
The survey was conducted by live interviewers over cellphone and landlines, and it has a margin of error of 4 percentage points plus or minus. Nashif said he based his sample on historical turnout patterns. A particularly large Democratic edge to turnout — as some predict, given President Trump’s low approval rating — is not reflected in the poll, he said.