Writings and observations

Oregon consistency

Oregon is developing some long streaks when it comes to voting for one party or the other.

OR political field guide
Based on material from the upcoming Oregon Political Field Guide

Up until 1986, Oregon – which was historically a Republican state until it moved more into a two-party camp in the mid-50s – elected a number of both Republican and Democratic governors. The longest streak of continuous control of the office by either party was by the Republicans, a run starting with Charles Sprague in the election of 1938 and ending with the defeat of incumbent Elmo Smith in 1956 – in all, 18 years. The current Democratic streak has, though this year, run 26 years, and presumably will hit 28 by the next gubernatorial election.

The record hold by a party of an Oregon Senate seat, the combination of Republicans Mark Hatfield and Gordon Smith in Class 2, just ended in 2008, at 42 years. The second-closest, involving three Republican senators over 37 years, ended in 1954.

None of Oregon’s five House districts have changed party control since 1996, or eight terms ago. The 5th district changed hands a few times in its early days, but among Oregon’s other four districts, you have to go back to 1980 when the 2nd went Republican, to 1974 when the 1st and 4th went Democratic, and all the way back to 1954 when the 3rd district went Democratic – in the latter case, 58 years of Democratic control there.

Many of the counties are about as consistent over time. Our new Oregon Political Field Guide notes, for example, that in the most Republican instance – Malheur County – it “last went Democratic for president in 1940, for governor 1934 and for U.S. senator 1926.”

Quite a few eastern Oregon counties were at least semi-competitive into the 80s, and many had majority Democratic registrations as late as the early 90s. Since then, the consistency has been Republican – solidly so for what is now approaching a generation.

Is there anywhere to look for non-consistency – put another way, for those swing voters that campaigns logically should be most seriously courting? Mainly, it seems, in the suburbs. Counties like Washington and Clackamas are relatively non-consistent over the years, have been most willing to switch sides.

That, of course, is in relative terms.

Just another factor to bear in mind as the election year moves on.

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