Betsy Johnson Was Successful in Attracting Voters in Areas Where She Has Deep Ties

Betsy Johnson: Betsy Johnson, the independent candidate for governor, had a very different base of support six months before the election than she had on Election Day.

From the spring of last year through September of this one, polls consistently placed her in a distant third place. Her numbers hovered around 20%, which is dismal in a two-way race but decent in a three-way contest.

She would theoretically be in second place, between the Democratic candidate Tina Kotek (who ultimately won) and the Republican candidate Christine Drazan, given that polling figures may readily fluctuate by 10 points or more in the last two or three months of a campaign.

Over the past few months, there has been increased speculation that Johnson will become the first independent to be elected governor of Oregon since Julius Meier in 1930.

As of right now, we can safely say that it didn’t take place. We also know that Johnson’s early campaign support did not translate into a larger share of the vote for her on election day and that she instead finished with a relatively low 8.6% of the vote.

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Betsy Johnson Was Successful in Attracting Voters in Areas Where She Has Deep Ties

Where did things go wrong, and what can we learn about politics in Oregon from the sizeable amount of support she did have?

She polled between 7% and 10% statewide in Oregon. Clatsop (22.9%), Columbia (20.8%), Gilliam (20.7%), Tillamook (17.8%), Jefferson (12.1%), Wheeler (11.6%), Wasco (10.9%), Deschutes (10.5%), Sherman (10.1%), and Lincoln (10.1%) are among the counties where she received a larger percentage of the vote. They share a common trait: She has deep contacts in the local media and marketing circles due to her extensive personal history there.

The counties of Tillamook and Lincoln were close by, and the cities of Clatsop and Columbia formed the backbone of the legislative districts she served for many years. Johnson has deep roots in the Deschutes and Jefferson county areas, where he spent his childhood, and the remaining counties are also closely linked to this area.

In a way, this shows that the individuals who know her best are devoted to her as a person. It is notable that she received less than a quarter of the vote in her home county (Columbia), where she had served for many years as not only a popular and respected elected official but a cherished local legend.

Betsy Johnson Was Successful in Attracting Voters in Areas Where She Has Deep Ties
Betsy Johnson Was Successful in Attracting Voters in Areas Where She Has Deep Ties

Politically, these counties relatively backing Johnson are a mix, although, with the partial exclusions of Lincoln, Clatsop and Deschutes are Republican-leaning.

What about the five counties where she had the worst results? These are Malheur (5.1%), Lake (5.9%), Klamath (6.1%), Wallowa (6.4%), and Umatilla (6.7%), all places that run extremely heavily Republican. But that wasn’t the deciding factor, as she also did better in some other staunchly Republican counties.

Those who supported Johnson initially and then drifted Republican may have abandoned her movement earlier and in greater numbers due to this, at least.

In broad strokes, I can explain what occurred as follows, according to the numbers:

At one point, around the time of the May primary election, the campaign was likely on the verge of becoming a true three-way struggle, but then partisanship set in. Many Republicans probably reacted first when they noticed that their contender, Drazan, was receiving a lot of positive attention and had a better chance of appealing to swing voters than their prior nominees. Because of this revelation and the hope of finally becoming governor, support for Johnson dropped to the right while support for Drazan rose.

In time, many Johnson supporters with a lean toward the Democratic Party reacted to this, and this ripple effect continued until September. Many of these voters preferred Johnson to Kotek for governor, but if the decision came down to Drazan and Kotek, they’d pick the Democrat every time.

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It’s possible that millionaire Phil Knight’s decision to transfer his support from Johnson to Drazan, reflecting his own assessment that the Republican stood a much better chance of winning than the independent, shows how strongly voters reacted to this news.

Those who voted for Johnson a second time were more likely to have a personal or geographical attachment to her than to have been particularly independent or disgruntled with the two major parties. Although she may have swung the vote by a couple of percentage points, it’s likely that Kotek and Drazan would have won anyhow. Voters in Oregon largely stayed true to their original political affiliations.

One thing to learn from Oregon’s gubernatorial election of 2022 is that electing an independent has never been easy.

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