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Younger Oregon voters have the clout to make their state even more liberal than it already is — if they only voted.


“On non-presidential election years, millennials disappear,” says Adam Davis, founding partner of the Portland-based DHM Research firm. “In the off-year November 2014 general election, 80 percent of those between the ages of 60 and 70 voted. Only 45 percent of those between 18 and 30 did.”

Davis made his observation during a presentation titled “Generational Values and Beliefs” before the Westside Economic Alliance last Thursday morning. It drew on the extensive polling, focus groups and other research the firm has done on voters over the years, including how their values differ based on their ages.

Among other things, the research shows that the largest blocks of voters of all ages consider themselves to be liberal on social issues and middle of the road on economic issues. But the youngest voters are more likely to support policies most closely identified with urban Democrats. Especially compared to older voters, they favor public transit over road construction, believe that population growth should be directed into existing cities and towns, believe that climate change requires us to change the way we live, support increasing the minimum wage, believe state government should raise taxes for social programs, and believe it is the job of local governments to provide affordable housing.

But they are also less likely to vote, especially in off-year special elections where so many local bond measures are decided. According to Davis, 41 percent of those between the ages of 22 and 29 did not vote in any of the last four elections. That compares to 47 percent over 65 who voted in all of them.

The different voting rates could affect the outcome of the November election in Tigard to fund the MAX line proposed for the Southwest Corridor Project. Measure 34-210 authorizes the city to spend money to help plan a new light rail line between Portland and Tualatin through Tigard. But fewer than half the voters over 45 support public transit over road construction, according to Davis’ figures — and they vote at higher rates than those below 45.

And, although younger voters are more likely to support policies and programs supported by Democrats, they are less likely to register with a major political party than older voters. According to Davis, 48 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 are either registered with minor parties or are unaffiliated. That’s a big reason why Democratic Party registration in Oregon has dropped from 60 percent in the early 1970s to 39 percent today. Republican Party registration has dropped even farther, from 50 percent in the early 1950s to 28 percent today. But minor and unaffiliated registrations are skyrocketing, rising from almost nothing in the 1960s to 33 percent today.

The difference is especially apparent in a recent poll DHM Research took in the presidential race. Among all voters, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump by 38 to 25 percent, with 38 percent supporting minor party candidates or undecided. Clinton has an even bigger lead over Trump among those 22 to 29, pulling ahead by a margin of 40 to 9 percent. But a bare majority — 51 percent — are either supporting minor party candidates or are undecided.

The difference is also apparent with Measure 97, the corporate sales tax measure on the November ballot. A recent DHM poll showed it passing by 60 to 30 percent of all voters. It was passing by 66 to 23 percent among those 22 to 29, reflecting their greater support for higher taxes for social programs.

Despite the differences on individual issues, however, Davis believes Oregon voters have more in common than not, especially when it comes to such values as protecting the environment.

“The divide is not all that great,” Davis said.

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