Survey says political lines blur when potholes need to be filled

Mayor Charlie Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick are looking for millions of dollars for additional road maintenance. They may decide to put a new fee or tax on the November 2014 ballot. If that happens, passing it should be doable, based on the results of the 2013 Oregon Value & Beliefs Survey.

According to the survey, road infrastructure is the No. 1 issue Portlanders want local government officials to do something about. A full 67 percent of city residents believe government should stimulate the economy through spending on jobs and infrastructure. The same percent say they are willing to increase or reallocate some of their taxes for road and highway maintenance. And a slight majority — 51 percent — say we don’t spend enough on public services and should increase some taxes.

But Hales and Novick aren’t taking anything for granted. They are conducting a series of town hall in different parts of the city to hear what residents are willing to support. The Bureau of Transportation is also polling city residents on the issue. A scientific survey has already been conducted and an online survey is underway on Novick’s website.

Hales and Novick are wise to take it slow. No matter what Portlanders say they believe, the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey includes another important finding — most Portlanders don’t trust government to spend their money. A majority of Portlanders — 56 percent — think government is wasteful and inefficient with our taxes and cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

That may sound strange, given that the majority of Portlanders identify themselves as liberal on both social and economic issues in the poll — 54 and 56 percent respectively. Many political pundits seem to think that only conservatives distrust government. But according to the survey, many Portlanders have mixed feelings about the proper role of government right now. Fifty-seven percent believe government should stop telling people how to live their lives, 41 percent says its not government’s business to protect people from themselves, and 35 percent believe government interferes too much in our everyday lives.

In fact, the survey shows that other Oregonians are even more distrustful over government than Portlanders. For example, 71 percent of those in the rest of the region and 68 percent of those in the rest of the state believe government is wasteful and inefficient with our taxes and cannot be trusted to make good decisions.

Adam Davis, co-founder of the Portland’s DHM Research firm that conducted the survey, believes liberals are disenchanted with government for different reasons than conservatives, however. According to Davis, many liberals are frustrated with government because it is not doing what they want.

“What I’m seeing in Portland and Seattle, which is also liberal, is many people do not think government is creative, innovative or nimble enough,” says Hibbitts. “They believe government is needed to solve problems, buts it’s broken and isn’t getting anything done.”

Universal concerns

Hales and Novick agree with that analysis.

“Everywhere I go, people tell me they want the city to do more. They want the roads fixed, they want more affordable housing, they better schools. When it comes to roads, people are saying, ‘We’re tired of waiting. Get on with it,’ ” says Hales.

As Hales sees it, Portlanders are willing to raise their taxes for government services because they are what he calls “communitarian.”

“It’s not socialism or communism, it’s the belief in the common wheel and support for what government is trying to accomplish, even if they have mixed feelings about government itself,” says Hales.

Novick notes that Portlanders have consistently voted to raise their taxes. He points to the repeated passage of the Portland Children’s Levy, numerous parks levies, the 2003 Multnomah County I-tax that went to schools and the 2012 Portland Arts Tax that went to schools and arts organizations.

“Concerns about the efficiency of spending are universal. In the past, however, Portlanders have been pretty supportive of revenue measures for public services,” says Novick.

No decision has yet been made about a November 2014 road maintenance ballot measure. But Hales and Novick both believe the key to passing such a measure is convincing Portlanders their money will be well spent.

“People have always had a healthy skepticism about government, and I have no quarrel with that. That’s why we need to tell them what we plan to do with their money and stick to it,” says Hales.

“When it comes to transportation, I think a lot of groundwork has been laid in that the city auditor has repeatedly pointed out that we need to invest more in maintenance and citizens have spent a lot of time identifying and prioritizing specific needs, especially in outer east and southwest,” says Novick.

Digging deeper

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. The second was conducted 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, the 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 nonvoters by email, cell phones and landlines, and community outreach. Interviews were conducted in five regions of the state, include the Portland area, Willamette Valley and Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon.

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

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 DHM to dig deeper into the Portland-area findings, separating it from the rest of the region and the state, something that had not been down before.

Results of the Values & Beliefs Survey can be seen at

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 state. We'll include your thoughts in a follow up story. Please send comments to reporter Jim Redden at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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