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Hopeful about the future? Not so much

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How do Oregonians feel about the future of the country? The short answer is, not good.

In the past year, large-scale social movements on the left have raised up the voices of communities of color and called for increased income equality, forcing these issues to be addressed by presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle. On the right, anti-establishment sentiment has swelled, with armed protesters laying claim to federal lands and the development of widespread support for candidates with backgrounds and demeanors beyond traditional political norms.

The 2016 presidential and congressional elections will not be decided for many months. But the closing days of 2015 felt ripe to give Oregonians an opportunity to chime in on what kind of future they anticipate for America.

DHM Research conducted a statewide survey modeled for a 2016 general election turnout from Dec. 1 to 5, 2015. We asked 472 Oregonians a series of 10 questions assessing the kind of nation America is becoming. Each question was presented as a seven-point scale, with 1 denoting a negative direction and 7 a positive one.

None of the 10 questions received mean scores higher than a 4 — which indicates Oregonians feel America is headed in a positive direction for that marker.

Oregonians are least optimistic about America’s prospects for remaining a unified nation (mean score of 2.2), the level of admiration for our nation abroad (2.4), and, harkening back to the preamble of the Constitution, if the country will become a less or more “perfect union” (2.5).

An overwhelming 88 percent of Oregonians believe America is becoming a less unified country — just 5 percent believe the opposite. Democrats (2.5) and those earning less than $25,000 annually (2.7) are most likely to believe America is becoming a more unified country — but are still unmistakably negative.

Three in four (78 percent) believe America is becoming less admired across the world. Men are more positive (2.6) than women (2.2), as are Democrats (3.0) when compared to Republicans (1.9) and those with other political affiliations (2.3).

An equal proportion of Oregonians (76 percent) contend that America is becoming a less perfect union. Once again, Democrats (3.0) and those making over $100,000 annually (2.9) are the most positive of all demographic groups. Republicans (2.0), those with household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 (2.2), and Oregonians under 30 (2.2) are the most likely to agree that America is becoming a less perfect union.

When asked if America is becoming a country with less (1) or more equality (7), 42 percent are negative, 23 percent are neutral, and the remaining 35 percent say they think the nation will be more equal going forward. A near majority (49 percent) of those with an annual household income above $100,000 are positive. Those making between $25,000 and $75,000 — a much large group — are decidedly negative.

The overall breakdown of Oregonians is similar when considering whether America is becoming a less or more innovative country, with 46 percent negative, 20 percent neutral, and 33 percent positive. Those earning over $100,000 (4.0) are once again more positive than those with household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 (3.4). Respondents from the Portland metropolitan region (4.0) believe America will become more innovative than the rest of the state does (3.2-3.5).

Democrats were the only group to fully assert that America is becoming more innovative, with a mean score of 4.4, compared to 3.2 for Republicans, and 3.4 for those affiliated with another or no political party.

Whether pessimistic or realistic, it’s clear that Oregonians have a gloomy outlook for our nation’s prospects. The coming year will no doubt reveal some answers as to the direction America is heading, but it is apparent that Oregonians have wide-ranging doubts regarding the health of our nation’s future, which will likely linger, irrespective of who is at the helm come Jan. 20, 2017.

John Horvick is vice president and political director of DHM Research, a leader in opinion research, providing consultation for private, public, and nonprofit clients. Located in Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., it is a nonpartisan and independent firm. Website: dhmresearch.com/contact