DHM Research

Politics May Be on Oregonians’ Minds, but It Is Not a Part of Their Identity

Throughout our research at DHM, we consistently hear concerns about party distrust and the growing political divide. As we head into a new year rife with ballot measures, new government, and high-profile elections, we wondered: we may see others through their political affiliation, but do people see themselves that way? Using some modified questions from The New York Times, our most recent survey sought to figure out which identities were actually important to Oregonians and whether politics—if at all—play a role in shaping those identities. Here’s what we found.

Top Identities (Hint: Political Party Is Not Among Them!)

Among all group identities in the list, my role in my family outranks the rest. Over half (52%) of Oregonians rank this in their top three identities, with 1 in 3 putting it first. My occupation also ranked high—again, just over half (51%) rank this in their top three; however, it is more likely to fall under the second (19%) or third choice (21%) rather than be top of mind. Where I live (38%), my age group (33%), and my gender (30%) are lower but still rank among the top identities for about one third of Oregonians.

Bar graphs illustrating responses to the question, "In general, which of the following list are first, second, and third most important to you in describing who you are?" From left to right, 1st-3rd combined responses, then responses to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.

Interestingly, political party or movement ranks much lower; only 19% name it in their top three, and a mere 3% put politics first. These findings are in line with the national results of the New York Times but are still surprising given the attention paid to politics in the media and online. Even among political news followers, few rank political party or movement in their top three list of identities (11%-30%), let alone their top choice (3%-9%).

Are Identities Really Partisan?

Politics may be on people’s minds, but their political stance does not appear to be a big part of their identity. Political and social scientists suggest this may be because political party is not a stand-alone identity but rather is becoming entwined with all our other identities. Looking at these identities along party lines, we do see some patterns emerge. Republicans are more likely to hold their religion (59%), nationality (63%), and role in their family (80%) as more important identity markers than Democrats or non-affiliated voters (NAVs). And although this finding is not statistically significant, NAVs (73%) felt the most strongly about their age group compared to their Democratic or Republican counterparts (65%).

Bar graphs illustrating importance of identity for "my religion", "my nationality", "my role in my family", and "my age group" by political party: republican, democrat, and non-affiliated voter/other.

Democrats on the other hand didn’t feel particularly strongly about any of the listed identities. Though they placed the highest importance on where I live (66%), this was of equal importance to Republicans (66%). Perhaps we simply did not offer a uniquely democratic identity. Or, more likely, perhaps our identities are not as partisan as we make them out to be. Either way, Oregonians clearly exist through a range of identities, and partisanship seems to near the bottom.