DHM Research

Justice in doubt: Oregonians expressing diminished confidence in legal justice system

Our legal justice institutions-at the federal, state, and local levels-are essential for maintaining the rule of law and ensuring the fair administration of justice. Confidence in the courts and law enforcement is key to a functioning democracy. At the same time, these institutions have been involved in controversies ranging from investigations of presidential candidates to partisan U.S. Supreme Court nomination processes to abuse of local police power.

Nearly every January since 2017, DHM Research has been checking in with Oregonians about their views of the legal justice system. Here are some of the key findings:

Oregonians’ confidence in legal justice institutions has declined since 2017.

  • Except when it comes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), where confidence among Oregonians has remained stable at 60% between 2017 and 2022, confidence in the following institutions has declined during the same period: local police departments (from 79% to 63%); county sheriffs (72% to 56%); U.S. Supreme Court (57% to 54%); county judges (74% to 53%); Oregon Supreme Court (67% to 50%); and county district attorneys (68% to 48%).

Party affiliation is a key indicator of Oregonians’ attitudes toward the justice system, especially when it comes to the F.B.I. and the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • A roughly equal percentage of Oregon Democrats (64%) and Republicans (65%) expressed confidence in the F.B.I. in 2017, but as of 2022, Democrats are more confident (75%) than Republicans (48%).
  • In 2017, Oregon Democrats (66%) exhibited higher levels of confidence than Republicans (55%) in the U.S. Supreme Court, but as of 2022, Republicans (71%) are more confident than Democrats (48%).

Oregonians have greater confidence in their local police departments than in other legal justice institutions, but trust in police has declined, especially since 2020.

  • More Oregonians currently have confidence in their local police departments (63%), than in the F.B.I. (60%), county sheriffs (56%), the U.S. Supreme Court (54%), county judges (53%), the Oregon Supreme Court (50%), and county district attorneys (48%).
  • Nevertheless, confidence in local police decreased from 79% in 2017 to a stable 72-74% between 2018 and 2020, and then declined more significantly to 63% in 2022.
  • Confidence in local police is higher among Oregonians who are age 65+ (85%), Republicans (79%), higher income (74%), men (70%), and white (65%).

Confidence that the justice system provides equal treatment under the law is fundamental to our democracy. Diminished trust and diverging partisan opinions toward that system should concern us all.

Chart showing that the confidence of Oregonians in their local police departments has declined, particularly after 2020.