Monday, May 9, 2011

Where’s the Evidence of ‘Public Distrust’ on Rail?

With all due respect to the editorial writers at the local newspaper, the view here is that the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is overplaying the alleged distrust about Honolulu rail among the general public.

Today’s editorial says the project is “still encountering headwinds of public distrust.” Whatever it’s encountering, it’s more like breezes (hot air?) from the same sources, isn't it? Heaven forbid that the paper is relying on the comments section below its rail-related stories to judge public opinion; that’s a fool’s game.

The same opposition has been fighting rail for decades – the conservative talk-show hosts, the anti-government-spending activists, the I'll-never-ride-it glass-half-empty crowd, the at-grade (slow) transit advocates, the publicity seekers.

A Couple Suggestions

The only daily newspaper in town could undertake a couple activities to get to the heart of public opinion about rail – one scientific, the other anecdotal.

The paper could position a reporter at the rail transit booth to eavesdrop on the public the next time there’s a big expo at the Blaisdell. The pro-rail sentiment is flat-out overwhelming; 9-to-1 support is not an exaggeration.

But that would be anecdotal reporting. A more scientific assessment could be derived from a newspaper-sponsored professional public opinion survey, the kind undertaken by local firm QMark at the City’s behest two years ago.

Conducted in Fall 2009, the survey found strong support for rail in each and every City Council district, including East Honolulu’s District 4, which was represented at the time by the Council’s most vocal rail critic. The survey’s complete results are readily available at the rail project’s website.

Judgment Time

Honolulu was a two-daily-newspaper town at the time, but neither paper printed the survey’s results – an editorial judgment that still boggles.

Newspapers certainly should be skeptical of every poll presented to them conducted on behalf of this issue or that politician. The way they express that healthy skepticism is to report on who sponsored the poll and its plus-minus accuracy. "We report, you decide" is how Fox News puts it.

But to just ignore the poll altogether? That’s something else again and revealed more than the papers might want to admit about the quality of their reporting at the time.

Try to find out what the public really thinks, Star-Advertiser. And if you won’t initiate such a poll, let’s hope you do report somebody else’s results if another rail survey is presented to you.

Raising a finger in the breeze isn’t good enough.

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