Home News Local News VOTER APATHY
By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
Only about 25 people showed up at a gathering Thursday night to hear two Portland pollsters discuss the lack of interest in politics these days.
And that trend will follow through the May 21 primary, said Tim Hibbitts and Bob Moore.
The two agreed that only about 45 percent to 50 percent of registered voters would return their mail-in ballots.
There is a decided lack of interest in politics by the younger generation, said Hibbitts, noting that the audience he was speaking to in the Misener Conference Room of the Union County Chaplin Building consisted largely of the older generation.
Why the lack of interest and even cynicism, the two pollsters were asked?
"It's a combination of things," said Moore, whose firm does polling for many Republican candidates, including Sen. Gordon Smith and Jack Roberts. "People see the fighting going on (between candidates) but feel nothing is being accomplished. People feel politicians have no impact on their lives. There are more opportunities to do other things."
Hibbitts, said, "It's puzzling. There has been a slow decrease in interest in politics, a very substantial disengagement by young people. And now that disinterest is creeping up into the upper age brackets. It's a systemic, longer-term problem."
Hibbitts pointed to the California elections as an example of how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks won't change voter turnout all that much. One reason, he said, is voter perception that their leaders are doing a good job in dealing with terrorism.
"And voters are convinced the economy is on the rise, so the incumbents have the edge. Both in Congress and in Oregon, I don't think there will be a lot of changes. Incumbents on both sides of the aisle will be re-elected," said Hibbitts, who does analysis for KATU-TV and The Oregonian.
Hibbitts said he was not impressed by Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's forecast of 80 percent turnouts.
"In the 1960s, '70s, even '50s, we had 85 percent voter turnouts and we didn't have all mail-in elections like we do now," Hibbitts said. "We are in a decline in turnout now. It doesn't auger well for the long term."
"Congress has its highest rating in years, which is good for the incumbents. There is a sense we do have a purpose: fighting terrorism. If the mood of today continues,
we won't see a lot of turnover
Moore said there is a perception among Oregon citizens that state office holders "are not working together, that they have no real purpose. There is a very competitive environment. People are saying the politicians can't get along, that they're not solving problems."
Neither Hibbitts nor Moore can predict which party will rule the next Legislature.
"We could see some surprises, with some incumbents losing," Moore said.
Hibbitts added, "Conservatives have some advantages in the primary, but no one knows who will take over the Senate or the House."
The Republicans have the edge in both.
The pollsters agreed the race for governor was wide open between the top six candidates.
"It's wide open on both sides," Hibbitts said. There are too many undecided voters now to make a prediction, he said. "About 60 percent of Republicans are undecided."
Hibbitts said a poll showed Jack Roberts and Kevin Mannix favored by about 15 percent and Ron Saxton by 5 percent of Republicans quizzed, but that will change with Roberts and Saxton each expected to spend $800,000 in television advertising.
Ted Kulongoski is the Democratic favorite, Hibbitts said, adding, "but I wouldn't be stunned if he lost. The same for Roberts. But these two primaries are not predictable at all."