Deschutes County is politically drifting to the west side of the Cascade Range, so to speak, leaving neighboring counties behind — or so the 2018 election results suggest.
New research, however, cautions against concluding that Central Oregon is pulling apart politically. Oregonians in all regions share more common ground than their polarized voting records indicate.
Last November, voters in all counties east of the Cascades — except Deschutes and Wasco — supported Ballot Measure 105, which would have repealed Oregon’s sanctuary law for illegal immigrants.
Voters in all counties east of the Cascades — except Deschutes and Wasco — supported Measure 106, which would have banned state funding for abortions. Both measures were defeated by voters in Western Oregon, particularly the Portland area. Those same voters re-elected Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. East of the Cascades, only two counties — guess which ones? — gave Brown’s Republican opponent, Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend, less than 60 percent of their votes.
Yet Oregonians — and Central Oregonians — are less polarized than the picture painted by their red-and-blue voting patterns. The nonpartisan and nonprofit organization I direct, PolicyInteractive Research, has found that majorities of Oregonians throughout the state share significant degrees of agreement on a number of vital issues, notably climate change and health care.
PolicyInteractive conducts public opinion polls in Oregon and other states. We began this work by building upon the Pew Research Center’s national polling. Pew sorted Americans into eight political categories, ranging from Solid Liberals to Core Conservatives.
Using Pew’s 12 ideological defining questions we found that only 30 percent of Oregonians hold views that place them solidly in liberal and conservative categories. The other 70 percent are in the six categories in between. PolicyInteractive then expanded Pew’s questions to 25 pairs of statements covering topics germane to Oregon’s current events. Respondents were polarized on just six of the 25 paired choices; 17 pairs showed moderate to strong agreement, fully 10 of strong agreement.
On a spectrum of blue to red, we found 64 percent of the active voters reside between the categories of strong liberal and conservative. This large block of voters are a diverse mixture of conservative and liberal values, not a uniform gradation of purple. For instance, 13 percent are Opportunity Dems: liberals who value free markets and private initiative. Eleven percent are Progressive Conservatives, who see a place for government action to address some social and environmental problems, reminiscent of east-side Oregon Republican Gov. Tom McCall.
Then there are the Disaffected Dems, 13 percent, the Young Liberal Consumers, 8 percent, the Apolitical Country-First Libertarians, 9 percent, and the Market-Skeptic Rs, 12 percent, who have a dim view of large businesses. These findings indicate something more subtle than a consensus: Oregonians’ political opinions are widely varied, conflicting on some topics but converging on a surprising number of others. Legislators who can identify these points of convergence and build upon them can create state policies that win broad support and durability throughout Oregon, in red and blue districts alike.
Overall, Oregonians hold diverse positions yet are far closer on most issues than polarizing influences in media or politics commonly attribute. Despite their constituents’ increasingly varied voting patterns, members of Central Oregon’s legislative delegation have an opportunity to help their colleagues on both sides of the Cascades achieve durable results.
— Tom Bowerman of Eugene is director of PolicyInteractive Research, a nonpartisan independent organization engaged in polling and public policy analysis. Jackman Wilson, an editorial writer at The Bulletin in the late 1970s, assisted in preparing this essay.