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Youth give Rose City a liberal shimmer

Poll: Portlanders more likely to be renters, young, well-educated


Leaning to the left: Second of three parts

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Occupy Portland protesters held two downtown parks for nearly six weeks until Portland Mayor Sam Adams ordered police to clear the area one night in mid-November. The city has attracted a lot of young, well educated people who like the liberal leanings, according to a survey by DHM Research.Portland hasn’t always been as liberal as it is now. The 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Project survey shows it is far more liberal than the rest of the metro area and the rest of the state. A full 43 percent of Portlanders describe themselves as “very liberal” on social issues, compared with just 11 percent of the rest of the region and 13 percent of the rest of the state.

But it wasn’t always that way. For most of its 153 years, Portland politics were dominated by conservative businessmen, and the City Council carried out the wishes of the Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t until a young legal aid lawyer named Neil Goldschmidt was elected to the council in 1970 that the tide began to change. His election as the youngest mayor of any major American city two years later signaled the growing number of liberals in Portland.

After Goldschmidt resigned as mayor to became U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 1979, however, voters replaced him with a conservative Democrat, Commissioner Frank Ivancie. Although Ivancie was replaced by liberal small-businessman Bud Clark four years later, the council still had at least one genuine conservative as late as 1990, Portland police Officer Bob Koch.

Ever since then, however, no member of the council could be considered conservative. Few conservatives have even bothered to run for it. The three major candidates for mayor in 2008 — Charlie Hales, Jefferson Smith and Eileen Brady — shared so many liberal positions that political reporters had trouble finding any significant policy differences among them. In fact, after Hales and Smith made it into the general election, the hottest issue was how little each candidate was voluntarily accepting in campaign contributions until Smith self-destructed in a wave of stories about his personal behavior.

So why is Portland now so liberal? Some clues can be gleaned from the demographics in the poll. Among other things, they show city residents are younger, better educated, less religious, newer to the state, and less likely to own their own homes than those in the rest of the region or state.

According to the poll, more people between the ages of 25 and 44 live in Portland. The greatest difference is in the 25 to 34 range, which accounts for 26 percent of Portlanders compared with 20 percent of the region and 16 percent of the state. But the spread in the 35 to 44 range is almost as great. It accounts for 21 percent of Portlanders compared with 16 percent of the region and 14 percent of the state.

After 55 years of age, the numbers are pretty much the same in all three areas.

People in Portland have gone to school longer than those in the rest of the region or state. Only 7 percent of Portlanders have not progressed beyond high school, compared with 13 percent of the region and 16 percent of the state. A full 30 percent of Portlanders have post-graduate degrees compared with 15 percent in the region and 13 in the state.

Portlanders also are less religious. A full 57 percent say they are not religious, compared with 37 percent of the rest of the region and 36 percent of the rest of the state. Given a choice of major and alternative religions, 39 percent of city residents claimed no religion.

Portland residents are not as tied down as everyone else. Forty-one percent of them are renters, compared with 32 percent in the region and 28 percent in the state.

And Portlanders have lived in Oregon less than everyone else. Twenty-seven percent of city residents have lived in Oregon 10 years or less, compared with 21 percent of the rest of the region and 18 percent of the rest of the state. Only slightly more than half of Portlanders — 53 percent — have lived in Oregon more than 20 years, compared with 61 percent of the region and 62 percent of the state.

But Portlanders are not Lexus liberals. Despite their higher education levels, they are not wealthier than the rest of the region and state. Twenty-three percent of Portland households had gross incomes of less than $25,000 in 2012, the same as the rest of the state and 7 percent more than the rest of the region. Twenty-eight percent of households had incomes of more than $75,000, compared with 37 percent of the rest of the region and 26 percent of the rest of the state.

Not everyone shares views

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

“Our polling has shown Portland becoming younger, less dependent on manufacturing jobs, and less religious. It’s a trend, and like all trends, it is going to continue,” says Lavey, who worked on Republican Chris Dudley’s unsuccessful 2010 campaign against Democrat John Kitzhaber for Oregon governor.

Portland political consultant Kari Chisholm says that despite the city’s political leanings, not everyone is in lockstep on every issue or candidate.

“Chris Dudley got around 30 percent of the vote in Portland, which is more than the percent of registered Republican voters. There are pro-choice Republicans and right-to-life Democrats,” says Chisholm, president and chief executive officer of Mandate Media and publisher of the progressive Blue Oregon blog.

Oregon Historical Society Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk thinks Portland’s liberalism is a matter of self-selection.

“Portland has gotten a reputation for being a liberal city, so it’s attracting more liberals,” says Tymchuk, who served as Oregon chief of staff for Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith from 1997 to 2009.

Survey results

The 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Project survey is the third in a series of statewide polls on values and beliefs conducted by Portland-based Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Research. The first one was conducted in 1992. The second one was conducted in 2002.

The first two polls were sponsored by business and labor organizations to gauge Oregonian’s 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, by far, the most in-depth and far-reaching of the three. It was conducted in April and May 2013. More than 9,000 Oregon voters and nonvoters were surveyed by email, cell phones and land lines, and community outreach. Interviews were conducted in five regions of the state, including Portland metro, 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 by age, gender and income within each region and statewide.

Results from the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Project survey have been presented publicly before, including at a Portland City Council work session. But the Portland Tribune asked that poll numbers for the city of Portland be extrapolated from the rest of the region and state, something that had not been done before.

To see the original survey results, visit www.oregonvaluesproject.org.


Weigh in with your views

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. Send your comments to reporter Jim Redden at jimredde This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .