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Trust government? Fuhgeddaboudit

New poll reveals most voters are dissatisfied as crucial election nears


Oregonians, like other Americans, do not trust their government even as they prepare to elect new officials Nov. 4.

By a substantial majority of 59 percent, they say Oregon’s system of government may have its problems but is sound. Democrats are more likely to say so than Republicans and independents, but there is no majority from any group on the other side.

Yet by an almost identical majority of 58 percent, Oregonians also say they do not trust their state and local governments to spend their money wisely.

In a different DHM Research survey conducted last month for Oregon Public Broadcasting, 11 percent strongly approved and 35 percent “somewhat” approved of the Oregon Legislature. In the DHM survey conducted recently, only 27 percent saw their city government favorably, and 28 percent had similar feelings for their county government.

According to other recent surveys by DHM Research, 51 percent of voters sampled felt Oregon was going in the right direction; 39 percent, on the wrong track.

But 67 percent also said candidates for governor, and 68 percent said candidates for U.S. senator, were not addressing the issues they thought the election should focus on — even though there was no consensus on what those issues are.

Men were more dissatisfied than women in both races.

In the race for governor, Republicans and independents were more dissatisfied than Democrats.

In the race for senator, dissatisfaction came most from outside the Willamette Valley and the Portland area. While a majority of 61 percent felt no change from previous elections, 24 percent said they had more enthusiasm and 15 said they had less for the Nov. 4 election.

DHM Research conducted online surveys with 447 people in September about what they thought of government, and with 451 people earlier in October about what they thought of politics. Neither survey named candidates or specified ballot measures or general issues.

In the election survey, 48 percent of those sampled opposed online voting, mostly because of questions about security; 36 percent favored it.

Oregon now votes by mail ballots, although voter registration can be done online.

Asked whether the Legislature should be elected on a nonpartisan basis, 54 percent said yes, 39 percent said no.

Although a 2006 study commission said such a step should be considered, the Senate voted down a proposal in 2007.

The DHM Research surveys complement some findings in the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Project survey, which also was conducted by DHM Research by telephone and online means in April and May of 2013.

There were actually three separate surveys ranging from 1,835 to 3,971 participants.

They were sponsored by a coalition of public and nonprofit institutions.

In the 2013 survey, while nearly all those sampled supported government and taxation for the common good, 64 percent concluded that they do not trust government to spend tax money wisely, and 63 percent concluded that Oregon’s tax system is not fair.

When asked how they would change the tax system, Oregonians disagree — and their dispute is not limited to whether Oregon should institute a sales tax.

The sample was evenly divided — 42 percent agreeing, 43 percent disagreeing — on whether Oregon’s tax system was “unstable” with its dependence on the income tax for schools and state services and the property tax for local services.

Oregon is one of five states without a general sales tax.

While 77 percent said those who made the most should pay the most, 61 percent said Oregon’s personal income tax was too high.

They also were evenly split — 36 percent agreed, 38 percent disagreed — on whether Oregon’s tax code had too many exemptions.

Based on the type of measurement, Oregon ranks in the five top states for personal income taxes. While 42 percent agreed that reducing taxes would increase economic growth, 41 percent said it would cut funding for public services.

One potential point of agreement: Half the sample said they strongly or somewhat favor a tax aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

Spending priorities

When asked about how they would change government spending, more Oregonians have shifted in the past decade to the position that not enough is being spent on some services — or that they do not know — instead of saying the amount spent is about right.

The 2013 survey ranked support for spending on 20 government services. At the top were spending for public schools, 81 percent labeling it as very or somewhat important; public safety (police and fire), 79 percent; air and water quality, 74 percent; road and highway maintenance, 72 percent; community colleges, 68 percent, protection of farm and forest land, and disaster preparedness, 66 percent each.

The two that fell below 50 percent: New roads and highways, 49 percent; tax breaks and other subsidies for economic development, 43 percent.

Only spending for public schools commanded a majority — 58 percent — as a “very important” priority.

The 2013 survey concludes: “Overall, the survey results might be seen to imply that the public wants more than it is willing to pay for. But the findings also suggest that Oregonians may be willing to pay more in taxes if they can be convinced that government is fair, trustworthy, and efficient. These perceptions are critical at the ballot box as well as in policy implementation.”

pwong@PamplinMedia.com

twitter.com/capitolwong

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