Fiddich Review Centre

Political analyst shares insight on November election at Columbia Forum

Feb. 1—John Horvick, the senior vice president of DHM Research, a Portland-based polling firm, shared insights Tuesday night about the November election and why Oregon is unlikely to see a third-party candidate become governor.

The talk at the Columbia Forum, held at the Liberty Theatre’s McTavish Room, was part of a series of lectures in Astoria covering regional topics.

Horvick used polling data to provide context to the election and how current trends could shape the future.

Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, defeated former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, the Republican candidate, by a narrow margin. Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who ran as an independent, took a sliver of the votes.

Horvick noted that the closeness of the election was not surprising. Over the past two decades, he said, Democrats have only won by an average of 5 percentage points.

But data from Pew Research Center shows that the majority of Democrats and Republicans have very unfavorable views of each other.

“You look at these numbers and say, well, Oregonians and Americans are so mad at the two parties that it’s time for a third party to step in,” Horvick said. “But here’s the thing: The more these numbers go up, I believe the less likely that you’d have a third party be victorious and an independent be victorious. Because the more these numbers go up, the more imperative it is that the other side doesn’t win.

“Rather than creating space for a third party, it makes you so locked into ensuring that the other side’s prevented from holding power. And so I think that Betsy Johnson maybe would have had more of a chance in 1994 than she did in 2022.”

Not only did Johnson not impact the outcome, Horvick said, but raw votes in counties suggest that the former Democrat staying in the race harmed Drazan more than Kotek.

Leading up to the election, he said, only 24% of Oregonians thought the state was headed in the right direction, which was the lowest in 25 years.

Gov. Kate Brown also had the lowest approval rating of all governors in the country.

On top of that, Horvick said, the issues Oregonians were most concerned about were unique from previous years. Some of the issues, he said, were not favorable to Democrats, and some were significantly favorable toward Republicans.

Prior to the election, Horvick said, Oregonians told DHM Research the most pressing problems were homelessness, crime, housing affordability and poor leadership. He said Oregonians were also concerned about the status of Portland and abortion.

Historically, he noted, the top issues have been education, taxes, jobs, spending and health care.

“I do think that there were plenty of Democrats who were unhappy with the direction of the state, who were unhappy with the conditions of the issues of homelessness and crime,” Horvick said. “And that when abortion became an issue, it really allowed Democrats and Tina Kotek to reframe the election around issues that are much more favorable for Democrats.”

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion. He said that while he believes abortion changed the dynamics of the campaigns, he is less certain whether the issue affected the outcome.

Horvick said that Multnomah and Washington counties, which make up a third of the state’s electorate, are becoming increasingly Democratic.

He noted that Drazan made no gains in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, despite being from Clackamas County.

“Can’t win statewide in Oregon if you’re a Republican with those numbers. Just can’t,” Horvick said. “There aren’t enough voters in rural Oregon.”

He explained that Republicans are also a declining share of the electorate statewide.

Horvick presented data illustrating the geographical polarization in the state and the increasing polarization between voters with and without a college education.

He said education is one of the most important issues driving politics in Oregon, where about 36% of people hold college degrees.

Democrats, he said, control every state House seat where there is above-average college attainment. Republicans control the vast majority of districts with less-than-average college attainment.

“College degrees — it’s about educational opportunity, and so much of it today is about culture,” he said. “Those with a college degree just talk different, focus on different things, prioritize different issues than those without a college degree. And these legislators are just responding to very different constituencies.”

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