The Oregon Political Field Guide
Oregon politics isn’t just the story of politicians: It is also the story of the people whose votes puts them into office. The Oregon Political Field Guide, the first book-length independent and current review of Oregon politics in a generation, focuses hard on those voters: Who they are and how they vote, with analysis from the statewide to the precinct level.
If you track Oregon politics as participant, a professional or an interested citizen, the Political Field Guide belongs on your book shelf.
The Oregon Blue Book is an ongoing classic. For decades it has been one of the finest state references anywhere in the county, one of the most information-packed as well as slickly-produced. It’s on my bookshelf (actually, most of the editions from the last few decades crowd my bookshelves), and it (they) get regularly used.
But no book can or should try to be all things. As a state publication (and despite its source in the Secretary of State’s office), it goes a little light on election results, probably an appropriate decision. Anyone who wants the details, especially as they move toward the microscopic, has to look elsewhere. And that may mean looking in a bunch of places and reorganizing a lot of data, not to mention putting it into some context (definitely an area where a public publication ought not to go).
The Oregon Historical Society did, in 1973, publish a now hard-to-find book (one I’m fortunate to have found for my collection) called Oregon Votes: 1858-1972, by Burton W. Onstine (with Krista Adkins, Robbert Drake, Marvin Price and Rick Paulson, foreword by John Swarthout). It’s a wonderful compendium of results to the county level for major office races (president, governor, members of Congress) through those years. I’ve found no updates since, though, and apart from a short introductory section, the material is strictly statistical – no context. And no sub-major office context.
In 1989 two close observers of Oregon politics, David Buchanan and Pam Ferrara, produced The Almanac of Oregon Politics: The history of state legislative elections 1972-88 (published independently at Corvallis; Elaine Cull was noted as editor). As the title indicates, the book focused tightly on legislative elections, not something any book (so far as I can tell) had done before, and providing some contextual analysis as well as statistical background. A second edition of the book came out in 1994, but none since. (Both editions, as with Oregon Votes, were closely read and highly useful in putting together this new volume, and my thanks go to all the people involved with them).
My intent here is to cover some of this same territory, bringing it up to date, and rebalancing a bit the statistical and analytical sides.This book, as you can tell from quickly leafing through the pages, is heavily numbers-driven. I don’t lack for opinions on politics, policy and politicians, and I write about them in various other places, but not this one: This book is about wins, losses and numbers, and some very direct extrapolations from those.
A few general conclusions, some affecting the structure and content of the book, are worth noting up front.
Party membership is critical, and party identification has become ever more important. The numbers bear this out.
This isn’t a conclusion that would have been especially obvious, or maybe even reasonable, a generation ago. One other political book on my shelf is called The Ticket Splitter: A New Force in American Politics, a 1972 book by Walter De Vries and Lance Tarrance, who argued – with strong reasoning – that parties were becoming less important, and voters increasingly were splitting their tickets, ever less loyal to parties. That was then. In the 70s and 80s, party adherence (by registration) in Oregon often ran afoul of how voters actually cost their ballots. In the last couple of decades, the matchup has been relatively close. That much became clear early in the research for this book, and influenced how the results are presented.
One omission here of what would seem to be an obvious factor is, well, money: Campaign contributions by candidate. In a future edition of this book (if there is one), we may get into that. But not initially, at least, not because financing isn’t important in political races (obviously it often is) but because it’s only occasionally very enlightening without a close microscope. Incumbents tend to be well-funded, even when they’re lightly challenged; challengers (or candidates for open seats) who have for reasons apart from funding a strong case for why they might might win, tend to be well-funded too. Other candidates, typically, not so much. Money tends to follow probability, or at least strong possibility, of winning. But we may revisit this.
Beyond that … here’s the data and the background. We hope it’s useful. Let us know what you think.