From July 9-14, 2021, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs including some questions about extreme weather scenarios and drought in Oregon. The findings below demonstrate widespread support for interventions and protections to address health and safety during extreme weather events, such as emergency rules adopted by OSHA to protect farm workers.
The online survey consisted of 1,464 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. This survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.5% to ±2.6% depending on how the response category percentages split for any given question. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.
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.
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.
The question numbers in this document correspond with the accompanying survey questionnaire(Q1-16, Q26-27).
Future Scenarios in Oregon
Respondents were given a list of scenarios and asked to gauge the likelihood that Oregon will experience each of these scenarios over the next ten years: Very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not likely at all. It should be noted that in the time period during which this survey was conducted, Oregon was experiencing several active wildfires, as well as grappling with the loss of over 100 Oregonians as a result of extreme heat conditions(Q1-Q9). More than six in ten Oregonians feel that each of the scenarios is likely to happen in the next ten years. When combining very and somewhat likely responses several tiers emerge.
Tier 1: Increased Wildfires
Tier one includes scenarios that 80% or more Oregonians say are very or somewhat likely to happen in the next ten years, including:
- Increased number of wildfires (90% overall likelihood; 64% very likely) (Q3)
- Increased severity of wildfires (89% overall; 63% very likely) (Q7)
- Hotter summers (88% overall; 62% very likely) (Q5)
- Loss of animal habitat (80% overall; 48% very likely) (Q2)
Likelihood ratings for the tier one scenarios are high across the board with few demographic differences (Q2, Q3, Q5, Q7).
Oregonians living in the Tri-County area are more likely to expect the loss of animal habitat (84%) compared to those living in the Willamette Valley or the rest of the state(75-78%)(Q2).
Tri-County residents are also more likely than residents in other parts of the state to think the increased severity of wildfires in Oregon is likely in the coming years (92% vs. 86%)(Q7).
Tier 2: Worsening Drought Conditions
Tier two includes scenarios that 70-79% of Oregonians say are very or somewhat likely to happen in the next ten years, including:
- Severe drought conditions (79% overall likelihood; 47% very likely) (Q9)
- Increased conflict between water users (76% overall; 44% very likely) (Q8)
- Crop failure and pasture losses (76% overall; 37% very likely) (Q4)
Women are more likely than men to think crop failure and pasture losses are likely to happen in the next ten years (81% vs. 70%)(Q4).
Tier 3: Reduced Water Quality and Recreation
Tier three includes scenarios that 60-69% of Oregonians say are very or somewhat likely to happen in the next ten years, including:
- Reduced water quality (69% overall likelihood: 31% very likely) (Q1)
- Reduced outdoor recreation opportunities (63% overall; 29% very likely) (Q6)
Reduced outdoor recreation activities are the scenario that Oregonians express the most doubt about, with one-third of respondents (32%) saying it is either not very likely (22%) or not likely at all (9%) to happen(Q6).
How Things Are Going So Far
Respondents were asked to gauge their level of agreement with a series of statements about how Oregon’s residents and agencies are responding to extreme weather scenarios and drought: Strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree(Q10-16).
- The statement that receives by far the strongest agreement is “Cities and towns in Oregon need to move quickly to address the drought” (78% overall agreement, 41% strongly agree). Overall agreement with this statement is higher than 70% across all gender, ages, and income groups, indicating strong consensus on the need for swift action (Q15).
- In tier two, we have the only other statements that a majority of Oregonians agree with:
- “There is enough water in Oregon to meet current needs” (56% overall agreement; 16% strongly agree) (Q10)
- “I am willing to pay something more in fees or taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements to address Oregon’s drought” (55% overall; 19% strongly agree) (Q16).
- Men are more likely than women to agree that there is enough water in Oregon to meet current needs (63% vs. 50%)(Q10).
- No other statement receives majority agreement. There are some notably high unsure responses among the remaining statements. For example, one-third (29%) say they are unsure whether “Oregon’s agriculture industry is taking decisive action to conserve water during droughts” and 23% are unsure if “Oregon’s public water agencies effectively manage water supplies during droughts,” perhaps indicating a need for greater public communication from these sectors (Q10-Q16).
- 50% of Oregonians with a high school diploma or less education agree that there is enough water in Oregon to meet future needs, while fewer than one-third of those with a four-year degree or more agree(32%)(Q12).
Age as a Predictor
Age and educational attainment emerged as strong predictors in how Oregonians responded to these questions. These groups are often correlated, so it is unsurprising that as a trend emerged in one, a trend also appeared in the other (Q1-15).
- With very few exceptions, younger Oregonians tend to be more optimistic about the current conditions in Oregon, as well as potential scenarios in the future. This is especially true for those ages 18-29, but often true for those aged 30-44 as well(Q1-2, Q4, Q6, Q8-14).
- Younger Oregonians are more hopeful that Oregon will not experience any of the potential scenarios except:
- Hotter summers (93% vs. 84-90%) (Q5)
- Increased severity of wildfires (89% likely, 9% unlikely), which Oregonians aged 30-44 are less convinced is likely (86% likely; 11% unlikely) (Q7)
- There are few differences in whether Oregonians agree with the statement “cities and towns in Oregon need to move quickly to address the drought,” but Oregonians age 65 and older are more likely to “strongly agree” than other age groups (51%, each), and those age 18-29 are more likely to be unsure whether they agree or disagree (14%)(15).
- Although the majority of Oregonians in every age group say they are willing to pay more in fees and taxes for drought-related infrastructure improvements, those age 75 and older are far more willing than younger Oregonians (68% total agree; 28% strongly agree)(Q16).
- Trends based on educational attainment fall similarly to those based on age, with those with lower educational attainment being more optimistic (Q1-15).
Extreme Weather and Cities, Towns, and Utilities
- Oregonians feel quite strongly that cities and towns in Oregon need to do a better job responding to extreme weather events (81% agree; 44% strongly agree). Those living in the Tri-County area are more likely to say the response should be better than those living in other parts of the state (83%)(Q26). This is not surprising when you consider that most of the deaths during the late-June heatwave were concentrated in the Tri-County area.
- Most Oregonians do not think utilities are prepared for the weather extremes that are predicted by climatologists (55%), and another 26% are not sure whether utilities are prepared or not(Q27).
- There is a relatively high level of uncertainty about whether utilities are prepared for future weather extremes, with 22-33% of all demographic subgroups saying they don’t know if utilities are prepared (Q27). This suggests opportunities for more communication from local utilities around what steps they’ve taken to address emergency preparedness.
- Interestingly, there is a substantial difference by gender among those who think utilities are prepared for weather extremes. One-quarter of men say utilities are prepared (25%), while only 15% of women agree (Q27).
Identifying what unites us, understanding what divides us.
Generally, there are statistically significant subgroup differences between BIPOC and white Oregonians, as well as by geographic area, but for the most part, they are not substantial. The findings are reported to inform public education and communications.
- By and large, Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color are less likely than white Oregonians to anticipate negative weather scenarios over the next ten years, including:
- Crop failure and pasture losses (BIPOC: 68% vs. whites: 77%) (Q4)
- Hotter summers (BIPOC: 84% vs. whites: 89%) (Q5)
- Reduced outdoor recreation opportunities (BIPOC: 59% vs. whites: 64%) (Q6)
- Increased severity of wildfires (BIPOC: 82% vs. whites: 90%) (Q7)
- Increased conflict between water users (BIPOC: 69% vs. whites: 77%) (Q8)
- Severe drought conditions (BIPOC: 70% vs. whites: 80%) (Q9)
- Nearly one-third of Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color think it is unlikely that water quality will be reduced in the next ten years (31%)(Q1).
- BIPOC Oregonians are also more optimistic than white Oregonians about the current state of water management in Oregon and are more likely to agree that:There is enough water in Oregon to meet current needs (BIPOC: 65% vs. whites: 55%) (Q10)The agriculture industry is taking decisive action to conserve water during droughts (BIPOC: 54% vs. whites: 40%) (Q11)There is enough water in Oregon to meet future needs (BIPOC: 54% vs. whites: 40%) (Q12)Oregon’s public water agencies effectively manage water supplies during droughts (BIPOC: 50% vs. whites: 45%) (Q13)The general public is doing enough to conserve water during droughts (BIPOC: 35% vs. whites: 26%) (Q14)
- Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color are less likely than whites to say that cities and towns in Oregon need to move quicker to address the drought (BIPOC: 74% vs. whites: 79%)(Q15). However, BIPOC Oregonians and white are largely in agreement that cities and towns need to do a better job responding to extreme weather events (BIPOC; 77%; whites: 81%) and that utilities are not prepared for weather extremes (BIPOC: 51%; whites: 55%)(Q26, Q27).
- While rural and urban Oregonians differ in opinions on many of these scenarios and statements, there are instances of strong agreement. For example, 73% of urbanites and 71% of rural residents think it is likely that Oregon will experience crop failure and pasture losses in the next ten years. They also both strongly agree that Oregon will experience increased severity of wildfires (90% and 85%, respectively), further indicating that this concern crosses all demographic lines (Q4, Q7).
- Rural Oregonians are less likely than those in other areas to anticipate the following scenarios in the next ten years:
- Loss of animal habitat (rural: 72% vs. 82%) (Q2)
- Hotter summers (rural: 83% vs. 89-91%) (Q5)
- Increased conflict between water users (rural: 69% vs. 77-80%) (Q8)
- Severe drought conditions (rural: 75% vs. 80-82%) (Q9)
- Oregonians living in rural and rural-changing-to-suburban areas are more likely than urban and suburban counterparts to say Oregon’s agriculture industry is taking decisive action to conserve water during droughts (44-47% vs. 38-40%)(Q11).
- When it comes to current and future water needs, rural Oregonians are more likely than those in the rest of the state to say they are unsure whether or not there is enough water in Oregon to meet these needs (current: 13%; future: 16%)(Q10, Q12).
- Rural Oregonians were less likely than those in other areas of the state to say that cities and towns need to move quickly to address the drought (71% vs 78-81%) and were more likely than others to say they were unsure whether they agreed with that statement (14% vs. 8-9%)(Q15).
- Urban and suburban Oregonians were far more likely than rural Oregonians to agree that they are willing to pay more in taxes or fees to support drought-related infrastructure improvements (57-60% vs. 46%), with more than one-quarter of rural residents strongly disagreeing (28%)(Q16).
- Urban, suburban, and rural-changing-to-suburban Oregonians are more likely than rural Oregonians to say that cities and towns need to do a better job responding to extreme weather (82-84% vs. 72%) and that utilities serving their community are not prepared for predicted weather extremes (56-59% vs. 46%)(Q26, Q27).
 Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office; July 9, 2021
This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent and non-partisan organization. OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (www.oregonvbc.org).