The majority of people in Benton County have voted Democratic in every Presidential election since 1988. The same is true of Multnomah, Lane, Clatsop, Hood River, and Lincoln Counties. Linn, Polk, and a dozen other eastern and southern counties have always voted majority Republican. The rest of Oregon is more fluid.
Because Oregon’s population is concentrated in Multnomah, Benton, and Lane Counties, Oregon has been carried by the Democratic Presidential candidate in every election since 1988.
Joseph Lowndes, Professor of Political Science at the University of Oregon, has charted the behavior of Oregon counties, and drawn conclusions from his research on how party platforms and the personality of Presidential candidates effect presidential elections. He observed that Bill Clinton was able to pick up counties which voted Republican before and after by advocating for issues which appealed to working class voters. “Bill Clinton was able to win two elections in part by absorbing conservative political stances or economic stances and repackaging them as Democratic,” Lowndes told KOIN reporter Amanda Arden.
Republican candidates during the 1990s and 2000s had difficulty appealing to Oregon voters while adhering to the party’s increasingly conservative platform. “The party in the ‘90s went on the attack, very seriously, against abortion, against gay rights, and against, kind of like, the idea of government in general,” which turned off wealthy and upper middle-class voters who had an economic incentive to vote Republican in the hope of receiving large tax cuts, but who held more progressive attitudes on social issues. Once those voters left, it was difficult for the Republican party to win them back: “Once moderate Republicans are driven out of the party,” Lowndes said, “these people have nowhere to go, except for the Democratic party, which for the most part, represented for those years, not really a progressive or left agenda, but kind of a centrist agenda,”
When Arden asked Lowndes about future elections, he was reluctant to speculate, although he did say that a lot depended on Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. “If the Republicans recast themselves as more of a center-right party, they’ve got big opportunities in Oregon.” The Democrats, likewise, could continue to move to the right, courting conservatives while alienating their growing progressive voting base, or the party could come to be controlled by rising young progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who would move it back to the center, or even to the left of center.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump voiced many progressive and populist opinions, even while aggressively courting a far-right base which proved intensely loyal. He thus carried states which Republicans had not won in recent years, but in Oregon he only picked up Tillamook County. In 2020, Trump depended even more on his base, further alienating voters who had been swayed by his lip service to populism.
Oregon as a whole went with Biden in 2020 with Deschutes County taking a step left and voting for the Democratic team.
John M. Burt