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On social and political issues, we have a lot in common



When John Kitzhaber resigned in February, Secretary of State Kate Brown became the second female governor in Oregon history.

Will Brown try to become the second elected female governor after Barbara Roberts? Although she has not yet announced, everyone who follows state politics expects her to run for the remainder of Kitzhaber’s term in 2016 — and then a full term as governor in 2018.

But would another woman governor make any difference in terms of policy decisions? The same question surrounds Hillary Clinton, who is running to be the first female president. Do women differ from men on issues because they are women?

In Oregon, at least, the answer is both no and yes, according to surveys conducted over the past two years by DHM Research. Beginning with the comprehensive 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Study and continuing with more recent surveys, the findings show women and men tend to agree on most issues, but differ in the strength of their beliefs.

The same is true of age differences, which are coming into play now that millennials — those between the ages of 18 and 34 — are beginning to outnumber baby boomers in society.

“We continue to see these gender and age group differences in the public opinion research we’ve conducted since 2013,” says John Horvick, vice president and director of research for DHM Research.

The surveys reveal that Oregonians agree on a lot of things, regardless of gender or age. For example, when asked to explain what it is that they value about living in this state, Oregonians of all ages, genders, regions and political affiliations report similar things: clean air and water, natural beauty, sense of community, outdoor recreation and the climate.

In fact, asked to choose between protecting the environment and boosting the economy, 57 percent of Oregonians choose the environment. Women are more likely to feel this way, with 61 percent choosing the environment compared to 53 percent of men. The same is true of the young, with 64 percent of millennials favoring the environment compared to 52 to 56 percent of older Oregonians, according to the values survey.

Likewise, when asked to rank the issues that Oregonians want their local and state government officials to do something about, there were clear top priorities across population subgroups: jobs, education, and government spending and taxation.

The biggest demographic differences concern the two most pressing social issues of the day, discrimination and inequality.

Most Oregonians — 69 percent — agree that “discrimination against minorities is still a very serious problem in our society.” But women are more likely than men to agree with the statement, by a margin of 76 to 63 percent. The same is true of the young, with 76 percent of millennials agreeing versus 66 to 67 percent of those ages 35 and older.

Similarly, 68 percent of Oregonians agree that “we need to dramatically reduce the inequalities between the rich and the poor, whites and people of color, and men and women.” Again, women are more likely to agree, by a margin of 74 to 61 percent. And so are the young, with 68 to 75 percent of those agreeing versus 61 percent of those 55 and older.

Smaller demographic differences exist on another important issue, our transportation system. Democrats and Republicans at the Oregon Legislature are currently in a standoff over a new transportation funding package. But 72 percent of Oregonians feel that road and highway maintenance is important. This belief increases with age, with 63 percent of millennials saying it is important compared with 71 percent of those between 35 and 54 and 81 percent of those over 81.

A majority of Oregonians — 54 percent — also feel that transit options like buses and trains are also important. Millennials are more likely to feel this way, with 61 percent agreeing compared to 48 to 55 percent of all other age groups.

Oregonians are also united on their cynicism of government, with 65 percent of Oregonians agreeing that “government is wasteful and inefficient with our taxes and cannot be trusted to make good decisions.” Men tend to be the most cynical, with 35 percent “strongly” agreeing with the statement compared to 29 percent of women. The same is true of older Oregonians, with 35 to 36 percent of those over 35 strongly agreeing, compared to 25 percent of millennials.

That said, there is no consensus about whether or how to reform the tax system. Oregonians are almost evenly divided into thirds over whether we spend too much, too little or the right amount on public services. When asked whether taxes should be cut, 42 percent agree, saying it will spark economic growth, but 40 percent disagree, believing it will strangle public services.

More men than women — 48 percent to 37 percent — think cutting taxes will improve the economy. Those older than 34 feel twice as strongly as millennials about it, 20 to 10 percent.

Still, despite the widespread agreement on many issues, voter registration figures show that men and women in Oregon are self-selecting different political parties. More women are Democrats, while more Republicans and unaffiliated voters are men, according to the most recent figures by the L2 voter data firm.

The same is true for the different age groups. The most recent figures show that more voters between the ages of 18 and 54 are Independent or unaffiliated voters than Democrats or Republicans. Only voters 55 and older are Democrat or Republican party loyalists.

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