Less than two months from election day, polling [PDF] released this afternoon by Portland firm DHM Research suggests that 60 percent of Oregonians favor Measure 97, which would raise $3 billion a year by hiking taxes on big corporations. Just 30 percent of the 517 people polled were opposed, and 10 percent were undecided. Even more important says DHM Vice President and Political Director John Horvick, most of that support is assured. A whopping 46 percent of people polled earlier this month said they were certain to vote in favor.
"That’s a fairly good position to be in the week after Labor Day," Horvick tells the Mercury. "If you're a supporter, I think you feel pretty good."
As we've reported, the measure would slap a big tax hike on "C corporations"—a common tax designation that captures most, but not all, large companies—that sell more than $25 million worth of product in Oregon. Currently, those companies are taxed $100,000 per year. If the tax measure being floated by labor-backed Our Oregon passes, it'll be well above that: 2.5 percent on all sales above $25 million, with no upper limit. Estimates say the measure could generate $3 billion a year.
A couple things contribute to the high favorability, Horvick says. The first is the knee-jerk good feelings the notion of taxing big corporations generates at a time of rising wealth inequality. Even Republicans, most of whom don't support the measure, have their strong adherents.
"The only demographic group that does not support the measure is Republicans, with 57% opposed," reads a release DHM put out. "However, even one in four Republicans say they are certain to vote for Measure 97 (24%)."
The second thing is the measure's ballot language. For its survey, DHM polled respondents solely on the verbiage they'll see when filling in their vote.
"This is a great ballot title," Horvick says. "It talks about corporations, minimum tax, and these services that it’s going to pay for, which are valued services to the average voter."
It's true: Measure 97's ballot language specifically shouts out "education, healthcare, senior services" the new revenue would go to pay for, though there's increasing uncertainty the billions could be so neatly corralled.
Here's the thing about the measure's apparently strong position: It could easily slip away. Horvick notes Measure 97 bears a passing resemblance to 2014's Measure 92. You remember that as the GMO labeling measure that generated the most campaign spending of any ballot measure in Oregon history.
Like 92, the corporate tax hike is poised to see huge amounts of money thrown around on both sides. And Horvick points out that Measure 92, which ultimately failed by a tiny margin, appeared to be sailing toward passage with only a couple months to go.
"It fell fast," Horvick says. "You had two sides geared up to spend a lot of money, and the issue wasn't fixed in people's minds. It had a lot of different avenues to make the issue fuzzy."
Horvick expects a well-funded "no" camp will begin bringing some of their own avenues to bear as November approaches. The campaign has argued the tax hike is unfair, and will result in regressive price increases for Oregon consumers, arguments proponents dismiss.