Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Opinion Survey Finds 57% Support Rail Project; Scientific Market Research Can Withstand Attacks by Opponents Who Have Failed To Persuade Public

They have their anti-rail champions – the same people who’ve fought Honolulu rail for decades. They have their favorite anti-rail conservative radio talk show hosts. They dominate the comments columns below rail-related stories and editorials in the newspaper and attack the views of rail supporters.

The opponents have all that, but they don’t have what counts in the end: They don’t have public opinion.

Polling results released today by Mayor Peter Carlisle are stunning in what they reveal about the public’s ongoing support for Honolulu rail and the failure of opponents’ highly visible anti-rail campaign.

Conducted with strict adherence to scientific polling principles, local firm QMark’s survey of 900 Oahu residents – 100 in each City Council district – shows that fully 57 percent say they support rail’s construction.

Here’s the breakout: 30 percent “strongly support” rail and 27 “somewhat support” it. Those figures outstrip the 25 percent who “strongly oppose” and 15 percent who “somewhat oppose” the project. Overall totals: 57 percent yes, 40 percent no, and 3 percent had no opinion or declined to answer.

The telephonic survey, including mobile phones, was conducted May 9-20. Its margin of error is +/- 3.27 percent with a 95 percent confidence level, which means that at a minimum, the poll finds a 54-to-43 percent split among those who were questioned in support of Honolulu rail, a solid majority. At the other end of the error margin, 6 in 10 Oahu residents support the project. The entire survey -- questions, methodology, everything -- is available at the rail project's website.

The Comeback

We can imagine how anti-railers will deal with this news. They’ll attack the poll and polling in general and deny that a 900-person sample can accurately reflect the views of the entire population. They’ll demand another vote on the ballot in their determination to push these latest results aside.

They’ll laugh off the poll, attack it, denounce it and anything else they can to ignore market research’s validity and ubiquitous use in American political life. But they won’t be able to ignore the depth of experience public opinion polling has in this country and around the world.

Here are some web-based resources that validate public opinion research: American Association for Public Opinion Research; Marketing Research Association; The Gallup Organization, and Wikipedia.

Long-Term Support

The survey’s results are close to the 2009 poll that also was conducted by QMark among 900 Oahu residents. It’s remarkable that after 18 months of ongoing criticism by opponents and media coverage tinged with negativity, support for Honolulu rail remains within the margin of error of the 2009 survey.

The 2011 results are revealing across a broad front of issues related to rail. Oahu residents express support for transit-oriented development as a rational way to direct future growth. They also recognize that rail will be an alternative to being forced to contend with traffic congestion that will continue to grow through the years.

The poll’s results are ripe for deeper examination, and we’ll do that in the days ahead, but here’s a point to end today’s post: The results are a repudiation of opponents’ simplistic anti-rail campaign that has deliberately attempted to confuse and obfuscate the issues.

Campaign Failure

As we’ve noted here repeatedly, anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater has built his campaign around trying to convince the public rail shouldn’t be built because traffic will continue to grow through the decades. His Civil Beat interview in July 2010 and his comments before the City Council the same month were grounded in this assertion: Rail will fail because traffic will continue to grow.

Here’s Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka’s response at that July 14th Council meeting: “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news. I think what the difference is, is that without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail…. Slater even had to admit as much.

He should admit this, too: Campaigns built on half-truths and obfuscation are bound to fail. Mr. Slater’s attempt to position rail transit as not worth building because population growth will inevitably result in more traffic was transparently flawed from the start. Most people are too akamai to fall for that line.

Oahu residents overwhelmingly support Honolulu rail. We’ll examine the poll’s detailed results in the days ahead.

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