SALEM — Only a third of Oregonians believe the state is “going in the right direction,” and the majority support racial justice protests and police reforms, according to a new statewide survey.
DHM Research and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, based in Portland, asked state residents in July about the opinions centered around politics, police, protests and racial injustice.
The survey’s measure of public opinion about the direction of the state has fallen precipitously amid the COVID-19 pandemic, economic shocks from shutdowns to curb the coronavirus, and protests following the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
Just 33% say Oregon is headed “in the right direction,” down from 41% in June and 51% in April.
“The last time DHM Research measured such (a) sharp decline in sentiment was in the months following the September 11th attacks,” DHM Research said in materials supporting the survey’s data.
Oregonians in the Willamette Valley were the most pessimistic, with just 26% saying the state is headed in the right direction. The percentages rose to 35% in the Portland metropolitan area, and were highest — 37% — in the rest of the state.
The new survey did not ask why residents felt the state was going in the right or wrong direction. Oregonians rated COVID-19 as the top problem facing the state, followed by racial injustice, homelessness/housing affordability, law and order, and unemployment/economic recovery.
A slim majority of Oregonians — 55% — approve of their local law enforcement agency. In January 2020, DHM Research asked Oregonians a related, but differently worded, question about local police. At the time, 74% of residents said they were very or somewhat “confident in their local police department.”
Asked if they believed crime is increasing rather than decreasing in their community, 48% said it is increasing, 18% said decreasing, and 36% were not sure.
Beyond their local law enforcement, Oregonians had a less positive opinion. About 40% approve of police conduct nationwide, a sentiment shared by those 18-44 and over 65 years old. Only Oregonians in the 45-64 age group had a positive opinion of law enforcement in the United States.
DHM Research said its results showed Oregon residents have a lower opinion of law enforcement in general compared to the rest of the nation. A June 2020 survey by Quinnipiac University showed 49% had a positive view of police, while, 44% disapproved of their job performance.
In the new Oregon poll, the biggest indicator of opinion was political affiliation — 80% of Republicans approved of police performance, while only 35% of nonaffiliated and other voters agreed. Just 22% of Democrats had a positive view of police performance.
About 55% believe police treat white people better than Black people, though the numbers vary widely depending on race, political party, age, education and region of the state where they live.
Two-thirds of Oregonians support the Black Lives Matter movement, up from 54% in May 2018.
Slightly more than two thirds — 67% — support the protests around the country in response to the death of George Floyd. One officer has been charged with second-degree murder in the case, while three others face lesser charges. All have been dismissed from the police force.
Portland has seen more than two months of nightly demonstrations, which led to President Donald Trump ordering federal law enforcement officers to the city, sparking clashes with demonstrators and the use of tear gas and nonlethal weapons. Federal and state leaders are negotiating a phased withdrawal of federal forces from Oregon’s largest city.
Protesters and law enforcement have clashed in Eugene, with sporadic vandalism. Other Oregon cities have seen less frequent but peaceful demonstrations.
A majority of Oregonians support a variety of reforms to police policy and procedures, including:
Requiring police officers to intervene and stop excessive use of force by other officers.
Requiring the states to release officer disciplinary records.
Banning the use of chokeholds.
Banning no-knock warrants.
Ending the use by law enforcement of chemical agents, such as tear gas, and nonlethal pepper bullets, is supported by 50%, while opposed by 42%.
About 58% of Oregonians want funding cuts to police departments, with the money shifted to social service programs.
The statewide poll taken July 16-22 surveyed 603 state residents balanced for demographic, geographical, political and other factors. DHM says the survey has a margin of error of 2 to 4 percentage points.