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Better off or not? Oregonians divided on issue, poll finds

Although the Great Recession officially has been over for years and all indicators suggest Oregon’s economy has more than recovered, the state is deeply divided between those who say they are doing well and those who say they are not.

A new poll by icitizen found 53 percent of Oregonians say their personal economic situation is only fair or even poor. In contrast, 47 percent say their situation is either good or even excellent.

But there are significant demographic differences within those figures. For example, the poll found about two-thirds of Oregon college graduates say they are in good financial shape. In contrast, about two-thirds of those with less education say they are struggling financially.

The same split shows up in households that are earning above or below $55,000 a year.

“It’s a tale of two Oregons,” says Mark Keida, icitizen’s director of research and polling. “Post Great Recession, many Oregonians are still trying to catch up. Those without a four-year degree or a $50,000 or higher household income are struggling mightily with personal finances; those with them say they are in good shape.”

There also are geographic divides. In the Portland metro area, where the cost of living is high, 53 percent of residents say their personal financial situation is fair or poor. An even larger majority of those in the Willamette Valley, 63 percent, say the same thing. But only 43 percent of those who live in the rest of the state characterize their personal finances as fair or poor.

Not surprisingly in these politically polarized times, there also are significant partisan divides. A majority of Democrats, 58 percent, say their personal finances are good or excellent. By comparison, 57 percent of Republicans say their finances are fair or poor. But an even larger percentage of third-party and nonaffiliated voters say that — 61 percent. Significantly, their numbers far exceed registered Democrats or Republicans.

Young people optimistic

Age also affects Oregonians’ views. A majority of the young and old feel positive about their personal financial situations. But a majority of those in the middle — between the ages of 35 and 64 — do not.

The positive view by those between 18 and 34 may seem surprising (52 percent described their personal economic situation as good or excellent). Conventional wisdom holds that many so-called millennials are burdened with college debt and struggling to find meaningful work.

And young people are even more positive on the economic direction of the state. When asked to rate the Oregon economy, 60 percent of those between ages 18 and 34 said “good” or “excellent.” Only 40 percent said “fair” or “poor.”

The same also is true when asked whether they think the state is going in the right direction or wrong direction. Sixty-one percent said Oregon is on the right track.

Keida said the positive economic outlook held by young Oregonians is a good sign for the state.

“Youth are optimistic about the direction of the state and the state’s economy,” he noted. “States need this for [population] retention and the growth of their taxable base.”

Country, state views differ

Researchers note that voters are usually much more positive about their state than the rest of the country. That helps explain why so many incumbents are consistently re-elected to Congress, even though many polls show most voters view it — and the rest of the federal government — with disdain.

The situation is no different in Oregon, according to the icitizen poll. It found that 70 percent of Oregonians think the country’s on the wrong track, compared to only 49 percent who think the same about Oregon.

The negative feelings about the direction of the country are almost universal, although 57 percent of Democrats think it is on the right track. Those most convinced it is going in the wrong direction include 77 percent of women, 78 percent of those 50 to 64, 80 percent of third-party and nonaffiliated voters, and 94 percent of Republicans.

The feelings about Oregon’s direction are more evenly split. Democrats and young people are the most positive while Republicans and retirees are the most negative.

When asked how the Oregon economy is doing, the overall responses are very close to those for personal economic situations. Fifty-five percent believe the state economy is fair or poor, compared to 45 percent who say good or excellent. However, far more seniors, Republicans and those living outside of the Portland area believe the state’s economy is in worse shape than their personal finances.

Asked to pick the most important problem facing the state, the largest block, 30 percent said jobs and the economy. Education came in second at 11 percent. Transportation/infrastructure, immigration and social issues, tied at 8 percent each. Some of the most heavily reported issues of the day garnered 6 percent or less, including crime, taxes, environment, gun policy, terrorism/homeland security and racism.

There were some demographic differences, however. Jobs and the economy was easily the No. 1 issue for young people, despite their optimism over their personal finances, the Oregon economy and the direction of the state.

About the poll

The online poll or icitizen, a nonpartisan public involvement organization, reached 555 registered Oregon voters and was conducted between June 23 and 27. The data were weighted to U.S. Census benchmarks for gender, age, region, education, income and race. The margin of error for the full sample was plus or minus 4 percent.

Poll results are at: www.icitizen.com/insights/oregon-poll-results-june-2016/