Poll: Why Republicans lose in Oregon

Oregon 2010 Election: Things Look Different Here
Moore Information Polling

Since Election Day, we have been asked by a number of people to explain why Oregon Republicans didn’t do as well here as they did in much of the rest of the country. To this, we would remind them that Republicans did pick up eight Democrat legislative seats, despite losing competitive races for Governor and Congress.

Looking more closely at this year’s gubernatorial and Congressional races in Oregon, there were two reasons Republican candidates did not win. First, Democrats turned out and voted in higher numbers here than they did nationally, and second, Independents did not vote as widely for GOP candidates as they did nationally. Let’s break that down further.
The data we are referring to come from exit polls conducted nationally for the major television networks. A total of 1,052 exit poll interviews were conducted in Oregon and 17,504 interviews were conducted nationally. Because not all states register voters by party like Oregon does, exit pollsters ask a party identification question “Do you consider yourself a Democrat, Republican or Independent,” rather than a party registration question (“Are you registered to vote as a . . . ?”). This party identification question is probably more accurate than a party registration question when it comes to gauging actual voter sentiment. In 2010 Oregon exit polling, 36% of those who turned out said they considered themselves Democrats, 27% Republicans and 37% Independents. By contrast, the Oregon Secretary of State party registration data among those who voted was 44% Democrat, 36% Republican and 20% other.

The makeup of the 2010 voter turnout in Oregon was identical to that of 2008. In both years, 36% of those who voted were Democrats, 27% were Republicans and 37% were Independents. By contrast, the party identification breakdown nationally in 2010 was 35% Democrat, 35% Republican and 29% Independent. Further, in Oregon those who voted in 2010 said they had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 by 16% edge (52-36%), almost identical to the 17% edge Obama had over John McCain in the 2008 election in Oregon. Nationally, the recalled vote for President in 2008 among those who voted in 2010 was 45% Obama/45% McCain.

In addition, this year, Oregonians were more negative about the Republican Party than voters were nationally. In Oregon 2010 exit polls, the GOP’s image was 30% favorable/63% unfavorable, compared to 41% favorable/53% unfavorable of the GOP nationally. From those same exit polls, 46% had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party in Oregon, and 48% were unfavorable, compared to 44% favorable/52% unfavorable nationally. To summarize, Democrats had a nine-point turnout advantage over GOPs in Oregon in both 2008 and 2010, and the Republican Party image is more negative in Oregon than it is nationally.

Democrats’ turnout edge in the past two elections has been wider than in the previous five years, as the following table reveals. Note: There were no exit polls in Oregon in 2002 or 2006.

Election Exit Polls: Party I.D.

Another problem for Republicans in Oregon – the electorate is more Liberal than it is nationally. According to exit polls, 28% of Oregon voters consider themselves to be Liberal in their political philosophy, compared to 20% among the national electorate.

The other factor that hurt GOP candidates in Oregon this year is that Independents did not vote as widely for Republicans as their national counterparts did. National exit polls showed Republicans winning Independent voters by 19 points (56% to 37%). By contrast, in Oregon, Independents favored GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley by only nine points (52-43%) and GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jim Huffman by only one point (48-47%). Independents in Oregon have historically been more in line with Democrats when it comes to voting. For example in the 2008 Presidential race, Oregon Independents favored Obama over McCain, 59-36%, while Independents nationally favored Obama, 52-44%.

One other piece of bad news for GOP candidates in Oregon is the issue of the minority vote. In 2010 the vote among minority voters (who leaned widely Democrat) actually increased to 16% of the electorate (compared to just 11% of the electorate in 2008). There is likely to be continued growth among Oregon minority voters, causing further, long-range problems for the GOP – unless their candidates are able to find a way to appeal to these folks.

In summary, Oregon has become bluer (more Democratic) over the past few election cycles. Republicans will continue to win legislative contests, but in order to win at the statewide level, Republican candidates will have to differentiate themselves from Republicans nationally, without alienating the Conservative GOP base.