Adam Davis: Get Ready for Election Show Business

Posted on: August 24th, 2015 by dhm-research

Adam Davis—August 20th, 2015
Portland Tribune

Did the Oregon Legislature meet this year? Many Oregonians would say, “I think so, but I’m not sure.”

They’ve been taking place, those meetings conducted by political party operatives and big donors to assess how things went in Salem this year and to decide what to do to get more Democrats or Republicans elected in Oregon. Maybe the rooms aren’t as smoke-filled as they once were, but make no mistake about it, the meetings are taking place, the checks are being written, the candidate recruitment is underway, the voter data bases are being massaged, and the candidate talking points are being developed and refined.

Come the day after Labor Day, all hell breaks loose for 2016. It’s show business, the kind of show business Lou Rawls sang about, “Oh you have a hard way to go; you got a lot of dues to pay, baby.”

Let’s pull up a chair and join one of these meetings. What does recent opinion research by DHM Research tell us about Oregon voters that may be of interest to campaign strategists and donors preparing for show business?

Looking back first, our research reveals that a striking number of voters are oblivious to the fact that there even was a 2015 legislative session. While a majority of Oregon voters are sure there was a session, 42 percent are not so sure or don’t know. Young voters are the most likely to believe there was not a session.

And how do Oregon voters feel about the session, even if they don’t know there was one? Less than a third (28 percent) believe that the Legislature was able to come together to accomplish a great deal. A plurality (39 percent) say the Legislature was bogged down by partisan differences and did not accomplish very much. And another third (32 percent) aren’t sure.

Republicans are two times more likely than Democrats to feel that the Legislature did not accomplish much, 54 percent to 27 percent. Non-affiliated/others split the difference at 40 percent. Additionally, many Oregon voters believe the Legislature did not address the most important issue they wanted it to do something about. Overall, not a glowing review.

“2015, that’s old news; the train has left the station. What can you tell us to help with 2016?” asks the campaign strategist at the table. Not so fast on 2015. What about the most important issues that Oregon voters feel the Legislature did not do something about? Wouldn’t that be valuable to know going into 2016? We’d hope so.

For Oregon voters, at the top of the list is the economy (code for “secure family-wage jobs”) followed closely by education and reducing government spending. There is no one issue that a majority of Oregon voters say is most important. Rather it is these three, and if you combine tax reform and reducing government spending into a public finance category, you’d have a statistical dead heat: public finance (26 percent), jobs and the economy (24 percent), and education (23 percent).

It isn’t news that the Republicans are more likely to say reducing government spending and Democrats are more likely to say education, but what may be helpful to know is which issues are in second and third places for the two political parties and how non-affiliated/others, who will be determinative in the elections next year, feel about these important issues.

For Republicans, it really comes down to just two issues: reducing government spending at 41 percent and the economy at 27 percent. Education comes in at a distant 10 percent, just ahead of the environment and transportation. It’s also a two-issue show for Democrats with education at 32 percent and the economy at 24 percent. In third place is the environment at 12 percent.

The non-affiliated/others are more divided with education at 27 percent, followed the economy at 21 percent and government spending at 18 percent.

In addition to knowing the most important issues, a candidate would be wise to know what voters value about living in their communities. Consistently since 1992 when DHM Research conducted the first Oregon Values and Beliefs Study, we’ve heard five things: natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, environmental quality, sense of community, and the climate. But what do they value the most?

For Republicans it is the sense of community at 43 percent, way ahead of natural beauty at 27 percent. Democrats are split between the same two qualities with both natural beauty and sense of community at 29 percent. Non-affiliated/others feel natural beauty is most important at 34 percent followed by sense of community at 27 percent.

And finally we’d tell them, you need to do focus groups to learn why people feel a particular issue is most important and how they feel about different public policy options related to that issue. The same suggestion goes for what they value about living in their community.

It’s all part of getting ready for show business.

Adam Davis, who has been conducting opinion research in Oregon for more than 35 years, is a founding principal in DHM Research, an independent, nonpartisan firm. Visit: dhmresearch.com

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