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Pollster wants to give voice to all Oregonians

The idea is to create something akin to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center - which conducts rafts of authoritative research on Americans' opinions - but for Oregon.

Adam DavisAdam Davis, the co-founder of DHM Research in Portland, says he's passionate about opinion research.

The longtime pollster, now working in an of counsel capacity at DHM, has a new project up his sleeve.

He says he wants to provide an independent, nonpartisan source of information about public opinion in Oregon, tentatively titled the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center.

The idea is to create something akin to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center — which conducts rafts of authoritative research on Americans' opinions — but for Oregon.

Davis wants the center to be a credible source of information that doesn't have a vested interest in any outcome.

"I think the key here is that I really would want to build this as an independent, nonpartisan organization using best practices when it comes to opinion research,"Davis said.

Polls and surveys can become a political weapon during campaign season, or when a particularly controversial issue is being discussed at the Capitol.

That can be especially true when special interest groups are conducting the polling and have say over the wording of the survey questions, sample size and other factors.

During the legislative session, for example, the notion that urban Oregon was running roughshod over rural interests was used to challenge legislation that would have set up a market system to cap the state's carbon emissions.

While protestors of cap and trade made quite a showing at the state capitol, there was little objective information to be found about how, on the whole, rural Oregonians felt.

Davis says he's interested in using both quantitative and qualitative methods to highlight the opinions of Oregonians, particularly people whose voices aren't heard as much in polls, including rural Oregonians, Oregonians of color and low-income people.

Many research projects in the state gauge the public opinion based on voters, and in many cases, likely voters.

But those groups aren't representative of all adults in Oregon, Davis said.

He's concerned about how the available research samples respondents, and how the questions are designed.

Most surveys here use what's called proportional sampling, which Davis says is fine for statewide results.

But if you want to, for instance, gauge how people in Klamath County feel about a particular issue, proportional sampling doesn't give you enough information to "say anything with statistical reliability," especially about subgroups within rural parts of the state, Davis said.

He proposes an alternative: stratified sampling, which can give researchers more information and allow them to dive into specific subgroups of rural areas with smaller populations.

Then the project can use statistical weighting to provide information about the overall, statewide point of view.

"I want to work hard to give voice to all Oregonians," Davis said. He said that starts with committing to touching base with a representative sample of Oregonians that matches the demographic information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, not just registered voters or likely voters.

Davis also wants the center to conduct focus groups to dive deeper in what Oregonians think, value and believe.

When Oregon Capital Insider spoke with Davis in October, he said the project was in the early stages of development.

Late last year, he and his wife, Regina, together with Tom and Kris Bowerman, started an Oregon Values and Beliefs fund at the Oregon Community Foundation.

But they'll require more funding to get the center going.

"It's going to take a lot of work on my part to sit people down and then help them understand how this is going to help Oregon," Davis said.

The plan is to conduct an annual survey as well as three shorter surveys every four months, to include survey topics ranging from personal beliefs and religion to government spending and civics knowledge.

The center would also track changes in Oregonians' views and values over time, and publish reports that intended to inform the public as well as decision makers like legislators, philanthropists, community leaders and policymakers.