The Oregonian Guest Opinion: Finding common ground in a not-so-divided oregon

By Tom Bowerman and Jackman Wilson

Oregon is not as polarized a state as a glance at the Nov. 6 election results would suggest. Despite the stark red-and-blue divisions exposed by many of the choices on the ballot, most Oregonians share common ground on important issues — including climate change and health care.

We know this because our non-partisan organization, PolicyInteractive Research, has conducted polls that capture the subtleties of public opinion in Oregon. There’s no room on the ballot for a “Yes, but” answer or a “No, unless” response — yet most Oregonians hold views that include such qualifications. On some key issues, Oregonians whose voting patterns place them on opposite sides of the political fence are actually standing close together in the same pasture.

This means Kate Brown can be governor of more than the seven counties she won on Nov. 6. She can be a 36-county governor, moving Oregon forward in ways supported by voters in the 29 counties that backed her leading opponent, Knute Buehler.

It means that Republicans in the Legislature need not be relegated to the sidelines. They can help steer climate-change and health-care policy in directions supported by their constituents, and protect all Oregonians against over-reach by the Legislature’s new Democratic legislative supermajorities.

It means that Oregon’s political landscape is defined by more than crisp red-and-blue district boundaries. Oregonians of all parties can get together to get things done.

PolicyInteractive discovered these opportunities with a survey of Oregon’s political culture, building on polling conducted on a national scale by the Pew Research Group. Pew sorted Americans into eight political groups, ranging from “Solid Liberals” to “Core Conservatives.”

We found that in Oregon, only 30 percent hold opinions that place them in those solid blue liberal or bright red conservative bands of the political spectrum. The remaining 70 percent are in six other categories in which liberal and conservative ideas are mixed in surprising ways.

After applying Pew’s categories to Oregonians, PolicyInteractive went further by asking questions about particular issues. We found that the majority of Oregonians in most political categories favor — and often strongly favor — state action to address climate change and problems relating to health-care access and costs.

A few examples:

  • Asked whether they agree that government should stay “out of climate policy business entirely,” only those Oregonians whose views place them in the Core Conservative category agreed. Oregonians in all seven other categories disagreed, with most people in four of the categories saying they disagreed strongly.
  • Majorities in six of eight categories agreed that “Stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.”
  • Strong majorities in all categories except Core Conservatives agreed that “Climate change requires us to change our way of life, drive less and live more simply.”
  • Oregonians in all eight categories expressed support for an “overhaul” of the health care system “toward one that educates and rewards good health rather than one that focuses on profit and sickness.”
  • Oregonians in all eight categories said they supportpublic posting of fees for medical services, and also back competition among non-profit insurance plans offering a variety of choices for coverage.

Our findings can be reviewed in detail under “Common Ground” at The overall picture is one of great complexity — Oregonians see the world in full color, not just red and blue. Deep disagreements do exist, but not nearly so much as agreement. Of 25 defining topics often parlayed as divisive, only five can be observed as truly contested. The larger picture displays opportunities for cooperation and progress on challenging topics we want solutions on.

Now come the hard questions: Will Gov. Brown grasp these legacy-building opportunities? Will legislative Democrats use their strengthened position to move Oregon forward? Will Republicans recognize their power to speak for constituencies throughout the state, above that of partisan wall-building? Will Oregonians in all 36 counties demand of their leaders progress toward the goals that Oregonians share?

— Tom Bowerman of Eugene is director of PolicyInteractive Research, a nonpartisan and nonprofit group engaged in public opinion polling and policy analysis. Jackman Wilson, former editorial page editor of the The Register-Guard, assisted in the preparation of this essay.

See original article here.