Democracy and Governance

Oregonians say American democracy is in peril, and that government policies do not reflect the views of most Americans.

From February 1-7, 2022, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs, including beliefs and attitudes about democracy and governance. The question numbers in this document correspond with the survey questionnaire (Q6, Q8, Q19-25, Q28-31, Q33, Q35-48).

Oregonians Say American Democracy Is More At Risk

Three-quarters of Oregonians say American democracy has become more at risk in the past few years (74%) (Q6).

  • A minority believe things have stayed about the same (14%), and very few believe American democracy has become healthier (6%).

In Their Own Words: Why Oregonians Say Democracy is More At Risk

Oregonians are most likely to point to the Trump administration, the January 6th insurrection, and related issues as reasons for why they feel democracy is at risk (30%). Other reasons include the political divide, lack of civility, and the media (Q8):

Biased media, polarized population, and elected officials fighting each other rather than working for the well-being of the country.”

Male, age 75+, Deschutes County, Other race or ethnicity

“Attempts from the last president and the Republicans to subvert an election result, increasing social acceptability of authoritarian right-wing points of view, gerrymandering making elections less representative, the senate existing.”

Trans, age 30-44, Multnomah County, White

“I can’t think of a specific thing, really.  Just the general sense of agitation, frustration, and distrust.  I’m afraid people will be willing to support anyone or anything that claims they/it can “fix” things.  And once the mob has spoken.”

Female, age 55-64, Washington County, Black or African American

“Censorship, cancel culture, courts releasing criminals and holding others illegally, the two-tier justice system, religious rights infringed, fake news, election anomalies, congressional insider trading, lack of transparency, rules for some, but not all”.

Male, age 55-64, Multnomah County, Hispanic/Latino/a/x and White

“The use of fear as a means of control has become commonplace.  The reduction of individual liberty and the dramatic increase of unchecked government power is highly concerning.”

Male, age 30-44, Josephine County, Slavic

Why Some Think Democracy Has Gotten Healthier

Respondents who say U.S. democracy has gotten healthier over the last few years mention more awareness of democracy’s challenges, COVID vaccine mandates, and a change in the presidential administration (Q7).

How Oregonians Feel About Our System of National Government

Nearly half of Oregonians are satisfied with the form of our national government—a democratic republic or representative democracy—and roughly the same proportion are dissatisfied (46%, 43%) (Q28).

  • About one-third of those who are dissatisfied with our democratic republic say it is built on classism and controlled by those with the most money (30%) (Q29).
  • Among those who are dissatisfied with the U.S.’s federal form of government, rampant disinformation on social media is cited as a primary driver of their dissatisfaction (15%) (Q30).

In addition to feeling America’s democracy is more at risk, eight in ten Oregonians believe the American economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful (79%) (Q20).

  • Moreover, nearly half of residents say they strongly agree that the economy is rigged for the rich (48%).
  • Beliefs that the economy is rigged for the rich span income levels (77% to 81%). However, those with household incomes of $50,000 per less are much more likely to say they strongly agree (53%) than those with incomes of $50,000 or more (44%-46%).

Few Oregonians believe that government policies reflect the views of most Americans (23%) (Q33).

  • Highlighting the belief that the American system of democracy is rigged for the rich, Oregonians with incomes of $50,000 per year or less are nearly half as likely as Oregonians with six-figure incomes to say government policies reflect the views of most Americans (18% compared to 33%).

Nearly two-thirds of Oregonians say the U.S. used to be a good model of democracy but it isn’t any longer (62%) (Q36).

  • Nationally (Pew, 2021), a greater proportion of Americans say that the U.S. used to be a good model of democracy but has not been in recent years (72%).

A Better Form of Governance than the U.S. Model of Democracy?

Oregonians are split as to whether there’s a better form of governance than the U.S. model of democracy, but a plurality say that a more representative democracy would be better (39%) (Q37).

Respondents who feel there is a better form of governance than the U.S. model of democracy were asked to name it, or a country that has it.  Following are three representative responses: 

“One where there are more than two parties.  We need to get away from the electoral college as it does not represent our votes”.

Female, age 45-54, Douglas County, White

“Look at countries that have lasted, and care about things like the environment and social well-being—Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden”

Male, age 45-54, Multnomah County, White

“Honestly I don’t know.  A true democracy has never really existed, so it would be great to start with that and see how it actually works.  It would be great to be a part of a society whose government actually wanted to listen to their people and change things according to how the people feel, not based on what laws grant more money or power to the government”.

Male, age 18-29, Multnomah County, Hispanic/Latino/a/x and White

The “Apple a Day” for Healthy Government

Oregonians were asked to rate the importance of particular qualities in contributing to a healthy government (Q39-48). More than 85% of Oregonians agree that the most important factors in a healthy government are equal participation and due process (Q40), equal opportunity to participate in elections (Q41), and the accountability of officials and institutions (Q47) (87%, 86%, 86%).  

Second-tier factors include transparent decision-making (Q39), an impartial legal framework (Q42), and the responsiveness of institutions (Q43) (84%, 84%, 81%).

Agreement with each factor tends to increase with education levels. For example, while 81% of those with a high school diploma or less say it is very or critically important to ensure due process for all in a healthy democracy, 87% of Oregonians with some college education say it is so, along with 94% of college graduates. These differences correlate strongly with differences by age (see below) (Q40).

How Oregonians Perceive Their Own Value Within American Democracy

A bit more than half of Oregonians say they feel like a stranger in their own country (55%), and 52% feel they are no longer valued (Q21, Q24).

  • Those with a high school diploma or less feel particularly left behind, with 60% reporting they are no longer valued by their county, as compared to 38% of college graduates (Q24).

Demographic Trends

Identifying what unites us, understanding what divides us.

Reported below are statistically significant subgroup differences between BIPOC and white Oregonians, urban and rural Oregonians, and age groups.  Many of these differences are not major and are presented to inform public education and communications initiatives. 

A Democracy in Peril

The belief that American democracy has become more at risk in the past few years is more prevalent among older Oregonians (Q6).

  • About half of Oregonians under the age of 30 say democracy has become more at risk recently (55%). That figure rises steadily by age group, to 88% for people 55 to 64, and to 94% for people 75 and older.

Urban residents are a bit less likely to say that American democracy is at greater risk, as compared to rural residents (66%, 79%) (Q6).

  • This may be due to a larger proportion of young residents living in urban areas, as young residents are also less likely to say democracy is at greater risk. While 55% of Oregonians under 30 say American democracy is now at more risk, 94% of those 75 older say it is.

Though older Oregonians express more concern about the state of American democracy, they are also more likely to say our form of government is working (Q28).

  • Among those 65 to 74, nearly two-thirds are satisfied with the form of our democratic republic (63%). For those 75 and older, that figure pushes even higher, to 72%.
  • This represents a stark contrast with Oregonians under 30, a plurality of whom express dissatisfaction with our democratic republic (42%). These young residents say our system of government is built on classism (35%) and rooted in systemic racism (19%) (Q29).

No Longer “A City on a Hill”

Broadly, six in ten Oregonians say the U.S. used to be a good example of democracy, but it has not been in recent years (62%). Among demographic groups, views tend to track around six in ten, with some exceptions (Q36).

  • BIPOC Oregonians are less likely than white Oregonians to say the U.S. was once a good example of democracy but has not been in recent years (56% compared to 64%).
  • This difference is due to a larger proportion of BIPOC Oregonians (20%) who say that the U.S. has never been a good example of democracy compared to white Oregonians (14%).
  • Additionally, more than one-quarter of young residents say the U.S. has never been a good example of democracy (27%).

Urban residents are more likely than rural residents to say that a better form of governance, whether a different form entirely or simply a more representative democracy, is out there (59% compared to 47%) (Q37).

  • Rural residents are less likely to agree (47%) than urban residents (59%) that a better form of governance is out there, but notably, rural residents are a bit more unsure than urban residents. More than one in four rural residents isn’t sure of the best approach (28%), compared to about one in five urban residents (21%).
  • Young Oregonians (18-29), who more often live in urban areas, are the most likely of any demographic group to say that a different form of governance would be better than the U.S. model of democracy (22%), with a consistent decline in agreement as ages go up (from 18% in agreement of those 30-44, down to 3% in agreement of those 75+) (Q37).

On the question of whether America’s best days are behind us, differences by age group nearly vanish. Overall, 46% of Oregonians agree that yes, those days are behind us (Q35).

  • For all age groups under 75, 43% to 50% of Oregonians agree our best days are in the rearview. This represents a plurality or simple majority view for each of these age groups.
  • Among Oregonians 75 and older, 31% agree, while a plurality disagrees (39%).

Pride in being an American is somewhat middling in both rural and urban areas (56%, 65%). There are, however, notable differences by age group (Q31).

  • Fewer than half of Oregonians under 30 say they are proud to be American (43%). The figures steadily incline with age, with 78% of seniors 75 and older saying they are proud to be an American.

Out of Touch Politicians

When it comes to the values that unite and divide Oregonians, two-thirds agree that traditional politicians don’t care about people like themselves (68%) (Q19).

  • But in rural areas, this message is especially pronounced, where 73% of residents say they agree with this message, compared to 66% of urban and suburban residents
  • Residents statewide agree that people can no longer share honest opinions at work, school, or social gatherings (71%). Once again, rural residents find this statement to be truer than do urban residents (78% to 64%) (Q25).

While few Oregonians overall (23%) believe that government policies reflect the views of most Americans, confidence is especially low in rural areas (Q33).

  • Ruralites are about half as likely as urbanites to say policies reflect Americans’ views broadly (16% to 29%).

Important Qualities for a Healthy Democracy

Older residents are more likely to say it is very or critically important to have due process (Q40), equal opportunity to participate in elections (Q41), and accountable officials and institutions (Q47) in a healthy democracy (Q38-48).

  • Agreement that these and other factors are very or critically important trends upward across age groups, with Q40 going from younger to older 57% to 95%, Q41 from 72%-97%, and Q47 and 69%-98%.
  • Additionally, 19% of Oregonians under 30 say that an impartial legal framework is only somewhat or not important at all, compared to 2% of those 65 or older (Q42).
  • Finally, more than one-quarter of this same group of young Oregonians (18-29) say it is only somewhat or not at all important to place tight limits on campaign contributions (28%), with 21% unsure, and 51% saying campaign limits are very or critically important, compared the older age groups 65%-83% (in a linear increase) saying campaign limits are very or critically important (Q46).

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 1,584 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education.

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.5% to ±2.5%. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.

This survey uses aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability.

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