SALEM — Oregonians split sharply along political lines over lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, according to a statewide poll released last week.
The monthly survey by DHM Research of Portland found 55% of respondents said it was too soon to be opening the economy, while 40% agreed it was time to make the move.
But digging deeper into the numbers, a gaping political divide emerged. Among Republicans, 66% said reopening was urgent, compared to 16% of Democrats. Among those registered as “nonaffiliated,” 46% support reopening.
In April, the DHM poll found 82% of Oregonians supported shutting down businesses and other activity to suppress the virus, including 72% of Republicans.
As of Monday, there have been more than 5,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 180 deaths, in Oregon. Nationwide, more than 2 million have been infected and 115,000 have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, the numbers continue to increase with an estimated 7.8 million infections and more than 435,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Oregon has been on the low end of both infection rates and death rates. In many parts of the state, that’s reason to open up businesses. An estimated 486,000 workers have lost their jobs in Oregon since March, and thousands of businesses have struggled with solvency.
“There’s much more of a divide, much more partisanship,” said John Horvick, research director for the project.
The poll of 900 people was taken May 29-June 7, 2020. The participants were selected to mirror the demographics of the state. DHM Research said the poll had a margin of error between 2% and 3.3%.
The poll is part of an ongoing survey of residents’ attitudes by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. Its sponsors include Oregon State University, the Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Portland-based Oregon Community Foundation.
The survey found all Oregonians polled are pessimistic about the state’s future, but more hopeful about their own personal finances than a poll in March, soon after cases started to spike.
The poll found 63% of Oregonians say the state’s economy is doing poor or very poor, up from 55% in March.
But many said they were less gloomy about their own prospects. Three months into the crisis, fewer than half of respondents are concerned about the impact on their own wallets.
Just 49% say they’re worried or very worried about their financial situation, down from a high of 63% in March.
Horvick said one of the biggest surprises was the 49% saying they are worried about their finances, the lowest since the polling company began asking the question regularly during the Great Recession.
“In 2012, 69% in the survey said they were worried about finances,” Horvick said. “That ticked down every year until in December 2019, it was at 50%. That’s the lowest since we started asking the question. Then it spiked back up to 63% in March and has come to the lowest point we’ve recorded. That’s pretty shocking.”
Horvick said that it is possible that the combination of unemployment insurance plus a federal bonus of $600-per-month for those forced out of work by COVID-19 meant that lower income people had a more stable picture of their finances than in normal times.
“But that $600 is coming to an end in July,” Horvick said. “I think a lot of families are going to be facing a financial cliff.”
The concern already skewed heavily by income and age, Horvick said.
The survey found those making $100,000 a year report only being worried about finances in 28% of cases. The concern was higher among those at the other end of the financial spectrum. The poll found 64% for respondents making less than $25,000 a year were worried about their wallets.
In terms of age, 23% of those older than 65 said they were not worried about their finances. The percentage rose with each younger age group, topping out at 63% of those aged 18-34 years old saying they were worried.
Shelter was an issue for a large segment of those polled, with 31% saying they need help paying their rent or mortgage, up 5% from March. Younger, less educated, and low-income residents more often said they needed help.
Where survey respondents lived reflected different attitudes on reopening. In the three-county Portland metropolitan area, just 34% supported reopening. In the rest of the Willamette Valley, 49% were for reopening, while 41% supported it in the rest of the state.
Attitudes about the “new normal” were divided in three: Short-term changes, long-term changes, and the desirability of the change. A majority said driving less and leading simpler lives were two short-term changes that were desirable, but unlikely to last in the long term. A majority said ordering items online was likely to be a long-term change, but most felt this was not a desirable outcome. Telemedicine was the only area where respondents felt that the change could last and that it was a good thing.
Most respondents felt that the reduction in their work would not last after the crisis. But majorities said they would fly less, drive less and stay closer to home.
About 17% of the respondents identified as businesses owners. Asked what their biggest challenge had been during the pandemic, the top answer was maintaining customer service and contact, followed by productivity.
The business owners were cautiously optimistic, with 69% saying they believed they would employ the same number of workers as before the pandemic and 64% saying they did not anticipate further layoffs. But the remainder said they expected more layoffs or weren’t sure.
“Despite now living in a recession, Oregonians appear less worried than they were in March regarding their financial situations,” the report said. “There is more cause for optimism amongst business owners that feel the worst is behind them.”
The ongoing poll will continue to monitor changes.
Horvick said the survey was a snapshot in time. The poll just released came as counties were reopening, but before Gov. Kate Brown issued a “yellow light” to halt more openings because of an increase in some infection numbers.
“In the coming months, we will learn what the new 'normal' in a post-COVID-19 world looks like,” Horvick said.