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Why Can't We Just Get Along? 

Oregonians are more alike than different, says new study

With the exception of a handful of school districts (like Bend and Lake Oswego), public education in Oregon ranks among the worst in the country. Graduation rates in Redmond and Portland are dismal, approaching 50 percent. Yet, the vast majority of Oregonians value K-12 public education. In fact, it is the number one concern, according to a new study about Oregonians' values and attitudes. Why the disconnect between what the people want, and what the people get?

A recently released survey conducted by DHM Research tries to bridge that gap, and to synthesize the values and concerns of Oregonians—all Oregonians, not just the most vocal or best-funded—to policymakers.

Conducted every ten years, researchers check in each decade with a cross-section of Oregonians—from old to young, cowboys to hipsters, and urbanites to hermits—and provide their findings in "Oregon Values & Belief Project." It is a sweeping assessment about the hearts, minds and souls of state residents, considering topics from religion to education, and healthcare to public education.

On Thursday, Adam Davis, co-founder of DMH Research, will present findings from the study. As smart as he is affable, Davis translates the mountains of data into understandable and interesting observations. The Source recently caught up with Davis for insights into the study:

The Source: When you first did the study, President Clinton was wrapping up his second term and the Internet wasn't even a household name, let alone "Portlandia." What has changed the most for Oregonians? What has stayed the same? 

Attitudes about many issues, like the importance of economic development and environmental protection, have stayed pretty consistent for 20 years. But we do see some changes. Oregonians appear more supportive of funding public education and less polarized and more supportive of Oregon's land use planning system. They are less likely to feel that our tax system, with just the income tax and property tax, is too unstable to pay for public services, though at the same time they tell us they strongly feel the system needs to be changed.  Especially compared to 1992, Oregonians feel more positive about the state, their personal futures, and feel their community in 10 years will be a similar or better place to live.

What topics do Oregonians most differ about?

Overall, no matter where we reside in Oregon, we tend to value the same things about living in the state—the natural beauty, clean environment, outdoor recreational opportunities, and sense of community. We feel the same public services are most important, and we feel negative about government and politicians, including the belief that government at all levels is wasteful and inefficient. In terms of economic actions, Oregonians across the state most strongly support investment in workforce development and growth that protects water and air quality. Differences relate to the importance of creating jobs and improving the economy, such as the tradeoffs people are willing to make to achieve that, and the role of government in economic development. We also differ in our support for new taxes going to public services.

Thinking a bit more broadly, compared to other states, are we Oregonians more or less unified in our beliefs and values? 

Oregon is demographically less diverse than some states, like California or Florida, and we tend to be more unified than they are in values and beliefs. But compared to states whose populations are less diverse than Oregon's, such as in the midwest, we are less unified.

Hmm. That surprises me. I tend to think of Oregon as fairly diverse—that the Central Oregon cowboys wouldn't have much in common with the Willamette Valley hipsters. That's good to hear. What surprised you the most about the findings? 

Several things. For example, the support for public transportation across the state, the absolute out-of-the-ball-park value people put on the state's environmental quality and natural beauty, and Oregonians' feeling that the country would be stronger if we consumed less—or put another way, that we don't need to buy things to have a strong economy. Also, in talking about their jobs, Oregonians said doing a job they can be proud of, enjoying the work and having fun, and being with people they respect were more important than earning a good salary.

That certainly seems to apply to Bend, where people tend to consider quality-of-life as part of the personal calculations. So, now that you have traced out the heart, minds and souls of Oregonians, what do you do with this information?

Hopefully the findings will give politicians and government officials the "cover" they need to serve the majority rather than the special interests, protecting what the majority values and promoting initiatives they support. The survey is already making a difference by helping state government realign economic and community development services to be more supportive of local priorities.    

Davis will speak at the City Club of Central Oregon's December forum, 11:30 am–1 pm, Thursday, Dec. 19, St. Charles Center for Health and Learning, 2500 NE Neff Rd, $20 for members, $35 non-members (includes buffet lunch)

77% of Oregonians find it desirable that "wellness and healthy living" replaces the treatment of illnesses as the primary goal and focus of the healthcare industry

Oregonians opposed the statement "revamp land use laws to permit more development" by a 2:1 ratio

Oregonians across all regions prefer rehabilitation of criminals through counseling and job training over locking them up in prison by more than a 2:1 margin

In considering whether economic growth or environmental protection should take priority if the two conflict, 57% of Oregonians favor environmental protection and 35% choose economic growth

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