DHM Research

Oregonians Believe Heat is the Wave of the Future

Despite abnormally dry conditions in Northwest Oregon in 2019, most of the state has so far remained free of drought. And with the exception of the Milepost 97 Fire, which burned over 13,000 acres south of Roseburg, this year’s wildfire season has been comparatively mild. But most Oregonians still expect the next ten years to bring hotter summers, increased drought, growing conflicts among water users, and a greater number of more severe wildfires.

These findings come from the August 2019 fielding of our DHM Panel. The survey was conducted from August 14 to 21, 2019, and surveyed 552 Oregonians. The results were weighted by age, gender, area of the state, political party, and level of education to ensure a representative sample of Oregonians. The margin of error for this survey is ±4.16%.

Oregonians believe summers will only get hotter.

Infographic showing that 76% of Oregonians believe Oregon summer will keep getting hotter.

More than three-quarters (76%) of Oregonians expect hotter summers over the next ten years. These concerns about higher temperatures are shared among Oregonians across the state, but young people, Democrats, and women are the most apprehensive. Young people ages 18–24 (100%) are more likely than their older counterparts (74%) to believe summer temperatures will increase. Democrats (99%), more so than Republicans (33%), also predict hotter summers in coming years, as do women more so than men (83%, 69%).

Oregonians are very worried about the threat of drought and believe the problem will get worse.

While most Oregonians (72%) believe there is enough water in the state to meet current needs, their optimism begins to fade when thinking about the next decade. Less than half of Oregonians (42%) are confident there will be enough water to meet future demand.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) believe Oregon will experience increased conflict between water users during the next ten years, with a slightly smaller majority (60%) worried that water quality will also decline.

Bar graph displaying Oregonians' opinions on the future of water quality in the next 10 years.

Here too, concerns about water quality are felt more strongly among Democrats (83%) than Republicans (26%), among young people ages 18–24 (88%) more than their older counterparts (58%), and among women (71%) more than men (49%).

Despite these high levels of concern, only about a third of Oregonians (31%) are confident that the state’s water agencies can effectively manage water supplies during drought.

Oregonians believe that wildfires pose a serious threat and that such fires will become more frequent and severe.

Pie chart showing the assumed likelihood of increased number and severity of wildfires according to Oregonians.

While a significant minority of residents of the Portland metro area (40%) and Willamette Valley (39%) are concerned about the threat of wildfire to their communities, these concerns are much higher among residents in the rest of the state (82%). An overwhelming majority of Oregonians (85%), however, are in agreement that the number and severity of wildfires will increase—again with young people (96%), Democrats (98%), and women (95%) the most concerned.

There’s plenty of uncertainty about land management practices to minimize the threat of severe wildfires. In general, more Oregonians believe private landholders are managing their lands well (42%) than poorly (21%) when it comes to preventing wildfires, although plenty simply don’t know (22%). But Oregonians’ assessment of state and federal agencies is less complementary. Roughly one-third of Oregonians (34%) say that state government is performing well when it comes to land management to prevent wildfire, with only one-fifth (19%) believing that federal agencies are doing a good job.

Oregonians express a wide range of views when it comes to how to respond to human-caused or nature-caused wildfires in undeveloped areas of the state.

Bar graph showing Oregonians expressing a wide range of views when it comes to how to respond to human-caused or nature-caused wildfires in undeveloped areas of the state.

Roughly one-third (33%) of Oregonians endorse a strategy of always fighting wildfires in undeveloped areas, with nearly one-third (32%) believing authorities should lean toward fighting fires, and another third (31%) leaning toward letting fires burn. Few Oregonians think that authorities should almost certainly let fires burn (4%).

When asked to choose among the major approaches above to dealing with wildfires, older residents (44%) and Republicans (51%) prefer always fighting wildfires, Portland metro residents (39%) lean toward fighting fires, and Democrats (39%) are most likely to lean towards letting fires burn.

Most Oregonians anticipate a future with hotter summers, increased severity of drought and wildfire, and growing tensions over water resources. These concerns are widely shared across the state and are most intensely felt among Democrats, women, and young people. But while concerns about severe drought and wildfire are high, confidence in the ability of state and federal agencies to manage them are low.