Oregon Population Survey

Jeff Alworth

Yesterday the Oregon Progress Board released data a survey they conduct every two years.  Researchers contacted roughly 4,500 Oregonians and asked them a number of questions related to their perception of how well things are working in the state (for a powerpoint slideshow of the findings, follow this link).  The survey also gathered data about respondent demographics.

The key findings have been reported fairly broadly: the personal circumstances of Oregonians have worsened considerably.  Predictably, this led them to give government its worst rating in a decade (60% approve, compared with highs in the mid-70s during the last part of the 1990s).  And yet when asked about individual services, Oregonians consistently rated them as high or higher than they have in the past.  Researchers asked about education, crime, protecting natural resources, and infrastructure (mass transit, sprawl, and roads).

Oregon demographics are not so rosy.  When adjusted for inflation, median incomes are down in Oregon.  The number of uninsured continues to rise (this year 12% of children and 17% of adults had no health insurance), now exceeding the national average.  When asked about creating jobs, access to health care, and providing help to individuals in need, respondents were far less positive in 2004 (respectively, numbers were 41%, 30%, and 10% lower than high water marks in previous years).

What does it all mean?  That's an interesting question.  My guess is that conservatives will point out that Oregonians already feel services are adequate and that there's no reason to panic and raise taxes. They'll probably argue that the poor economic figures are--as always--the result of a bloated and overweening government that needs to be further cut. 

My take is diffent.  Oregonians have always had an above-average regard for government and civic responsibility.  This is reflected in the number of landmark laws we've made about land use, beach access, recycling, public transportation, health care, and end-of-life decision-making.  Oregonians, despite recent assaults on "big government," have mostly regarded government as what it is: a mechanism for implementing the public will.  I suspect these findings reflect that continued commitment to the functions of government. 

And, as a liberal, I think the conservatives have it exactly backward on the economy.  The decline in growth of personal income and the burden of increased costs isn't the result of an overweening government, it's the result of constant cuts to government that imperil its ability to implement the public will.  The situation in which the state finds itself now is a result of activist conservatism, through leadership in the legislature and via statewide initiatives.  Conservatives look at the problems and think that they arise from not having done a complete enough job of keeping government at bay.  They'll see vindication in these numbers. 

Are they right?

  • iggi (unverified)

    great post Jeff...and no, they're full of sh*t.

  • Randy S (unverified)

    Labelling their stomach contents doesn't reduce the reliability of the figures. Of course folks can quibble about the methodology or question formation, but what if the report is accurate?

    Is this a reflection of a fundamental shift in people's belief of the possibilities of government? Most of my interactions with government -- the kind that people run into far more often than their legislators -- have been astounding for how inept and inefficient the front line face of government is to the public at large.

    I can understand the decline in faith in government in numbers as reported. If you have something concrete to point to that reduces the reliability of the numbers, please point me to it.

  • (Show?)

    I don't doubt the reliability of the numbers at all. But numbers don't tell you all that much unless you know how to interpret them. And the interpretation is, I think, up for grabs.

    I'm not sure what you mean about declining support for government--the findings reflect just the opposite.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    The use of the term "faith" is so appropos here.

    How do you increase the people's faith in government....?

    How does a minister increase his church's faith in God?

    1. Give them stories and parables regarding the painful lessons learned by others who strayed from the path of God/Government.

    2. Instruct them to pray to God/Government on a daily basis (but caution them that expecting too much from God/Government is sinful).

    3. Encourage everyone to partake in a public ritual ordained by God/Government (e.g., communion, singing hymns, Oregon Health Plan).

    4. Then guilt as much money out of them as possible afterward.

    Michael Moore has more in common with Jerry Falwell than just his suit size.

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