State of the States: Oregon

Even if you’ve never watched an episode of Portlandia, your political image of Oregon is likely very blue. It seems like a very liberal/progressive place, one beyond allergic to Donald Trump. Not quite. Joe Biden will win there in November. But by 12 points, maybe, maybe 15 or 16, not the 30+ in California or 25+ in Washington.

Believe it or not, Oregon is relatively moderate, a state Republicans need to start competing in if they want to win a national popular vote anytime soon. As California and Washington have become off-limits for GOP presidential candidates and Connecticut and New Jersey only accessible in a landslide year, the right Republican would be viable there. Something to ponder as thoughts turn to 2024 sooner than we’re ready for.

2016 Results: Hillary Clinton 50.07%, Donald Trump 39.09%, Gary Johnson 4.71%, Write-ins 3.63%, Jill Stein 2.50% (D+9)

The Gary Johnson vote, added to the Trump vote and some of the write-ins is a good reminder that a less objectionable Republican (and I mean someone like George W. Bush who lost Oregon by a quarter point in 2000, not some mythical liberal Republican from the distant past) would start with support in the 45-46% range and build from there.

Portland really is what you think it is. This was one of Jill Stein’s best states because of Portland. However, Portland is only 16% of Oregon’s total population, and the surrounding suburbs have more in common with suburban Dallas than the place with nightly protests. Once you get out of Metro Portland, there are plenty of rural and semi-rural places.

Oregon is 85% white. Median income ranks 20th, a few bucks higher than the national average. It’s 23rd in high school graduates, 18th in bachelor’s degrees, 16th in advanced degrees. If you only had this information, you’d figure the state was neutral to light blue.

2020 Polls: We have a single recent survey. Biden leads 51/39. With the caveat that this is only one data point, the margin is almost identical to 2016, despite Biden polling nationally 5+ points ahead of Clinton’s final result. We don’t know if the undecided 10% will break for Biden, split, use write-ins again, etc., but this shows a clear floor for a GOP candidate.

A full 53% of respondents have very negative views of Trump, compared to 34% hating Biden. Trump is getting almost everyone who doesn’t totally detest him to support him or be undecided. Biden’s 51% result is lower than the Trump hate line, and also below the 52% of Oregonians who at least like Biden some. Why is this so? Only 21% feel very positively about Biden, lower than Trump’s 23% number.

The people who love a candidate will turn out. The larger number of people who hate a candidate will turn out. To win nationally, Biden needs to get people who like him some and just dislike Trump to participate.

Key Historical Shifts:

Phase One (1860-1868): Light blue. Oregon was new. No railroads reached the West Coast. Which means the telegraph lines didn’t either. The Oregon Trail wasn’t a computer game to these voters. Republicans (Lincoln and Grant) won these elections, but by smaller margins than their national popular vote.

Phase Two (1872-1928): Light red to red. Though the margins were inconsistent, Oregon supported the Republican more than the rest of the country did every year except 1896. The GOP candidate won every year except 1912, when Taft and T.R. split the GOP vote.

Phase Three (1932-1980): Legit swing state. Oregon was more red than the rest of the country 7 times, more blue 6 times. On 5 occasions, the state was within 3 limits points of the national average. Candidates like FDR (14 point variance) Eisenhower (17), and Nixon (18) got very different results in their various campaigns. Each did better and worse in Oregon than nationally at least once.

Whatever your definition of a swing state, Oregon met it during the middle part of last century.

Phase Four (1984-Present): Blueish. Ronald Reagan remains the last GOP winner (1984), but the state was neutral in both 1996 and 2000. The only time a Democrat got a double-digit boost was Michael Dukakis in 1988. If Biden can get the majority of third party voters from 2016 to pick him, it could be a sign the state is becoming more blue, but we’d need to see a similar gap in 2024 to officially reach that conclusion.

We have a 160 year record that says Oregon is rarely extreme.

How Biden Can Improve on Hillary’s 2016 Result: Get some of the 11% of voters who didn’t pick Trump or Clinton to choose him.

How Trump Can Improve on His 2016 Result: See above. The Stein voters are theoretically off-limits to Trump, so this is an easier task for Biden.

Forecast: Oregon traditionally votes by mail. They should have less of an issue with new Covid-related conditions than most states. We should know how much Biden won by on Election Night. I’m not too sure how predictive the margin will be for letting us know who likely won the states that will need a few more days to count. Biden’s goal should be to clear 55% in Oregon.

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