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How liberal is Portland?

This ain't 'Portlandia' but it sure feels like it, according to a survey highlighting the Rose City's very lefty political leanings


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Members of the Occupy Portland movement took over part of downtown in mid-October 2011, with many dressed in Guy Fawkes masks from the 2005 movie V for Vendetta.Everyone knows Portland is more liberal than the rest of the region and the state. People joke that a Republican can't be elected dog catcher in Portland, and that business support is the kiss of death for any politician in the city.

Conventional wisdom holds that the only conservatives live in far east Portland, and they are vastly outnumbered by everybody else in town.

Guess what? It's not a myth.

A major statewide poll conducted last year, the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey, shows that most Portlanders are vastly more liberal than people living in the rest of the tri-county region and Oregon. Differences are dramatic on issues ranging from the economy to the environment and the proper size and role of government.

Turns out IFC’s “Portlandia” TV series is more documentary than comedy.

Results from the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey have been presented publicly before, including at a Portland City Council work session. But the Portland Tribune asked the Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Research firm to run the numbers again, this time separating Portland from the rest of the region and the state. Those results show just how large the gap has grown between Portland and its suburbs, as well as the rest of the state.

An obvious example from the poll: far more Portlanders describe themselves as liberals on both social and economic issues.

According to the poll, a statistically astonishing 43 percent of city residents consider themselves to be “very liberal” on social issues, compared to just 11 percent of the rest of the region and 13 percent of the rest of the state. Another 31 percent of Portlanders consider themselves to be “somewhat liberal” on social issues, compared with 24 percent of the rest of the region and 23 percent of the rest of the state.

In other words, a substantial majority of Portlanders — 74 percent — consider themselves to be liberal on social issues, compared with 35 percent of the rest of the region and 36 percent of the rest of the state.

The breakdown on economic issues is even more dramatic. Although just 19 percent of Portlanders consider themselves very liberal on economic issues, that's far more than the 6 percent in the rest of the region and state. A larger 35 percent of Portlanders consider themselves somewhat liberal on economic issues, compared with 22 percent in the rest of the region and 19 percent in the rest of the state.

Add it up and a consistent 54 percent of Portlanders consider themselves liberal on economic issues, compared to a smaller 28 percent in the rest of the region and even smaller 15 percent in the rest of the state.

In fact, when Portland is excluded, the largest blocks of Oregonians consider themselves middle of the road or moderate on social and economic issues — 30 and 31 percent respectively for the region, and 29 and 34 percent respectively for the state.

This split plays itself out on numerous issues in the poll, beginning with questions about the proper size and role of government.

According to the poll, 65 percent of Portlanders believe government services should be increased through efficiencies and taxes. Only 27 percent feel government provides too many services. In contrast, when asked if government services should be increased, only 24 percent of the people in the rest of the region and 23 percent of those in the rest of the state agreed. Most of them believe government already provides too many services — 63 percent of the region and 58 percent of the state.

And the poll found that Portlanders are consistently more liberal on other hot button issues of the day. For example, 88 percent of them believe climate change requires us to change our way of life by driving less or living more simply. That compares to 71 percent in the region and the state.

More Portlanders also believe government should stimulate the economy through spending on jobs and infrastructure — 67 percent compared to 34 percent in the rest of the region and 36 percent in the rest of the state.

Portlanders are also strong supporters of equal rights for all people. A full 84 percent disagree with the statement that “blacks, women, homosexuals and other groups don't want equal rights, they want special rights.” That compares to 47 percent in the region and 51 percent in the state.

Increasingly mobile

Portland political constant Kari Chisholm is not surprised by the concentration of liberals in the city. He says it is consistent with the findings of the 2008 book, "The Big Sort" by journalist Bill Bishop. It found that across the country, Americans are moving into neighborhoods and cities where everyone else thinks like them.

"We've all become increasingly mobile. People don't stay in their home towns anymore. If you're OK with gays and want to find organic food on every street corner, you move to that kind of town. If you're not, you move somewhere else," says Chisholm, president and chief executive officer of Mandate Media and publisher of the progressive Blue Oregon blog.

Portland political consultant Dan Lavey agrees. As a partner in the Gallatin Public Affairs group, he has watched the trend develop during the past 20 or so years.

"Blue collar, lunch bucket Portland Democrats have been replaced by lifestyle, cultural Democrats. Portland is now a destination for young creatives who come here for the food and recreational opportunities. Compared to cities like San Francisco, Portland offers an affordable urban experience," says Lavey, who worked on Republican Chris Dudley's unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Democrat John Kitzhaber for Oregon governor.

Nor is Oregon Historical Society Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk surprised. He saw the split as Oregon chief of staff for Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith from 1997 to 2009.

"We went all over state and you couldn't help but notice it. Portlanders may not have grown liberal over the years, but they grew more vocal and more convinced they were right on the issues," Tymchuk says.

Chisholm cautions against reading too much into political self-labeling, however. "You might have the same views in Eastern Oregon, but not call yourself liberal because the word has a different meaning there."

Really a Red State?

Still, in delving into the statistics, it becomes apparent that without Portland in the mix, the suburbs and the rest of Oregon would be a red state, not blue.

For example, when Portland is included, 41 percent of the state is liberal on social issues. When Portland is excluded, the number falls to just 23 percent.

The same thing happens on many issues covered in the poll. When Portland is excluded, support drops for government programs, sometimes dramatically, in the region and state.

But that does not mean Portland is at odds with the rest of the region and state on every issue. To the contrary, the poll finds a lot of common ground among most Oregonians. For example, 94 percent of Portlanders believe taxes are necessary to pay for the common good. A significant 86 percent in the region and 85 percent in the state agree.

Despite that, majorities agree our tax system should be overhauled to be simple and straightforward. That goal is supported by 76 percent of Portlanders, 87 percent of those in the region, and 80 percent of those in the state.

Most Oregonians also consider the public education system to be important. It is ranked high by 90 percent of Portlanders, 79 percent of those in the region and 78 percent of those in the state.

Protecting water and air quality is also a top priority. It is considered important by 85 percent of Portlanders, 73 percent of those in the region and 72 percent of those in the state.

Series of surveys

The 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey is the third in a series of statewide polls on values and beliefs conducted by Portland’s Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Research. The first was conducted in 1992, and the second in 2002.

The first two polls were sponsored by business and labor organizations to gauge Oregonians’ views on a variety of issues, including tax reform. The 2013 poll was sponsored by a coalition of public and nonprofit institutions, including the Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Oregon State University.

The 2013 poll was the most in-depth and far-reaching of the three. It was conducted in April and May 2013 and surveyed more than 9,000 Oregon voters and non-voters by email, cell phones and landlines, and community outreach. Interviews were conducted in five regions of the state, include Portland metro, Willamette Valley, and Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon.

Researchers used quotas and statistical weighting based on the U.S. Census to ensure valid samples by age, gender and income within each region and statewide.

To see the original survey results, visit oregonvaluesproject.org


Tell us what you think

Are you a proud Portland liberal? Do you buck the trend and consider yourself a conservative. Or are you somewhere in the middle?

Let us know what you think about the polling data that shows Portland is far more liberal than the rest of the region or the state. We'll include your thoughts in a future news story. Send comments to reporter Jim Redden at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This poll takes a deeper look at the values we all hold

Beginning today, DHM Research joins Pamplin Media Group to share with Portland-area residents the results of the 2013 Oregon Values and

Beliefs Study. In the weeks and months ahead, you will learn how Oregonians feel about a variety of issues, ranging from the economy and the environment to health care and support for the disadvantaged.

It has been the case for some time, at both national and state levels, that likely voters are the only residents who are regularly polled. And, along with advocates of narrow special interests, frequent voters’ attitudes are the only ones seriously considered in planning and policy making. You can see where that’s gotten us: fewer people voting in all elections, gridlock in Salem and a state that’s underperforming in many areas compared to other states.

In the Legislature, public forums and on the news, the voices we hear most often are the politically active and the loudest, not the most representative.

What makes this research different is that it sought out the voices of all Oregonians. Thanks to the Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon State University and Oregon Health and Science University, we spoke with a representative cross-section of all Oregonians about what they really think, really value, and really believe.

With a slow economic recovery, a reduction of federal funding and many difficult issues like education funding and public employee compensation stirring controversy, the discussion in Oregon about budget, governance and the kind of social, economic and environmental future we want will only become more intense and consequential.

Now is the moment to give voice to all Oregonians.

DHM Research, together with its research partner PolicyInteractive, designed and administered the research to assure valid and statistically reliable results. Quotas and statistical weighting based on the U.S. Census assured representativeness by age, gender and income. We measured attitudes about key issues with more than one question to test consistency, utilizing different formats and wording.

We hope the reporting of the Oregon Values and Beliefs Study will:

• Increase knowledge about demographics and key behaviors, values and beliefs, supplementing information derived from other sources such as the U.S. Census.

• Show Oregonians that regardless of where we live, we value the same things about living in Oregon, want our government officials to address the same problems and consider the same public services important.

• Help assure that the values and beliefs of all residents are more often considered in public and private planning and policymaking.

— Adam Davis, DHM Research