Volume XIV | Issue 2 | Fall 2014

We're not as split as you might think

Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey shows that Oregon has a rural and urban divide, but it’s not as wide as we often assume

Ever wonder how your opinion stacks up against those of your fellow Oregonians? A new survey offers the most comprehensive glimpse yet of what residents from all regions and walks of life think about living in Oregon.

Polls traditionally gather opinions from likely voters. This audience shares a similar profile: older, long-term residents, often with higher income and more education.

our state is at a crossroads

Not so the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey, which was intentionally designed so all Oregonians age 18+ would have the chance to be heard on important issues facing the state. “In many ways, the sponsors feel that our state is at a crossroads,” says Adam Davis of DHM Research, which conducted the research. “They wanted to give voice to the full opinion spectrum.”

Cover of the Oregon Values and Beliefs Survey bookletA booklet that summarizes the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey is available for free through Select Books.

Sponsors of the survey, which was conducted in April and May 2013, include Oregon Health & Science University, The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and Oregon State University. More than 9,000 Oregonians participated, by email, cell phone, landline and community outreach, in English and Spanish. 

And guess what? We are not as different as you might think. “The biggest takeaway for me is how much we have in common as Oregonians, regardless of where we live or which demographic group we belong to,” Davis says. “We value the same things about living in Oregon and in our communities.”

Oregonians value the state’s natural beauty, clean air and water, outdoor recreation, and sense of community or neighborliness. They also value a good economy, but they want an approach to economic development that recognizes the importance of the state’s natural environment to its quality of life. Oregonians greatly value productive farm and forestland and want to conserve it.

These action issues topped the list: K-12 education funding and quality, which Oregonians consider the most important service among a list of 20 different services; economy and jobs; and government spending and taxation.

The rural/urban divide proved smaller than you might imagine: Most Oregonians in every region of the state feel climate change requires us to change our way of life, such as driving less, and are willing to pay more to ensure children have access to nutritious food at school and to create greater access to mental health services. 

Rural areas of the state, where the economies are slower, are more likely to agree that economic growth should be given priority even if the environment suffers to some extent, and to support increase timber harvests in dense, over-crowded forest stands. But rarely are these differences more than a small margin. 

Looking for change

One thing is clear: Oregonians are looking for changes in governance and public finance. Poll participants were negative about government and politics, no matter where they were from. “They have no appetite for tax increases or government involvement in just about anything except job development and vocational training,” Davis says.

About 86% of those polled believe that taxes are necessary to pay for the common good, but only 27% think Oregon’s tax system is fair. Most Oregonians (64%) think that government is wasteful and inefficient with our taxes and cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

“There are a lot of things that Oregonians feel need attention right now,” Davis says, “and when we asked if they think we can work together to make progress, 80% said that was desirable, but less than 50% said we could do it.”

“This is a blinking yellow light to the state as we move forward. People are very negative toward the public sector, and there is real doubt that we can come together and make progress. At the same time, they love this state.”

Davis has been talking with Oregonians through surveys and in focus groups for close to 40 years.  One of the most interesting things he is learning these days, and he feels is evidenced  in the survey, is that Oregonians are beginning to look away from the public sector and look toward the nonprofit and private sectors for solutions. “That is where they are starting to look for the leadership necessary to bring about the constructive change they want,” Davis says.

Survey results are available here, and Davis and his team are busy sharing the report’s findings with interested groups. “It’s a great way for people to come together, to look in the mirror and see the good, bad and ugly,” Davis says, “and then, as a group, take a timeout and say, ‘what are we going to do about it?’” 

Agreement on key issues doesn’t mean we don’t disagree

Statewide and regional differences came to light in the survey, but most by small margins. We are divided on the level of public services that should be provided, and the cost to taxpayers. When it comes to the use of natural resources, Oregonians living in rural areas are more likely to agree that economic growth should be given priority even if the envrionment suffers to some extent and to support increased timber harvest in dense, overcrowded forest stands. But again, rarely are these differences more than a small margin. 

— 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey

A booklet that summarizes the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey is available through Select Books

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