Bubble, Bubble, Toil, & Statistics

Is it true, as some people (I won’t say who) have written me, that “even when there were more farms in the county, the population itself was overwhelmingly urban?”

Is that statement based on data or assumption?

It’s difficult to tell from figures I have, since the city boundaries don’t conform exactly to county boundaries, but according to the Oregon Blue Book, in 1970, when Multnomah County had 555,000 people, the incorporated city of Portland had a population of 380,000. Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village, Maywood Park, and Lake Oswego — the other cities in the county — had a total of 31,000 residents. That left at least 144,000 (25%) of the county population outside of incorporated areas; more if any of those cities extended outside of the county in 1970. Not all of those would qualify as “rural” voters, but they certainly weren’t urban. I remember what the spaces between Gresham and Portland looked like back then.

In 2000, the numbers were 660,000 for the county, 529,000 for Portland, and 151,000 for the other cities. Since the total for all of the cities in 2000 is greater than the population of the county, you have to assume that some of that growth is outside of the county, but I find it difficult to share a belief that the ratio of urban to rural voters within the county is still equivalent to what it was 30 years ago. If it is, then there should be 165,000 people somewhere in the county living outside of city limits. I think a more likely explanation is that as the population has risen and the cities have built up, the percentage of non-urban voters has dropped far below 25%.