Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scientific Opinion Polling Out of Favor in District 1

57% Support • 40% Oppose
That was the finding of QMark’s public opinion poll on the Honolulu rail project that was conducted last month among 900 Oahu residents – 100 in each City Council district. QMark abides by opinion survey principles, adheres to the tenets of the American Marketing Association and prides itself on the accuracy, veracity and objectivity of its surveys.

When QMark’s research says 57 percent of Oahu residents support the Honolulu rail project, you can believe it's an accurate reflection of what Oahu residents think – accurate to within 3.2 percentage points, the margin of error in a survey of 900 respondents.

In light of last night’s generally anti-rail community meeting sponsored by the City Council’s representative from District 1, the poll’s results in that district are of special interest. The scientifically sampled residents of Ewa, Ewa Beach, Honouliuli, West Loch, Kapolei, Kalaeloa (Barber's Point), Honokai Hale and Nanakai Gardens, Ko'Olina, Nanakuli, Wai'anae, Makaha, Keaau and Makua told QMark said they support rail by the same 57-to-40 percent split found in all of Oahu.

Dismissing the Poll

Hawaii News Now quoted the Council member who represents District 1 on June 1 about the just-released survey’s results:

“We have some 54,000 registered voters in District 1 alone and to take a survey of 100 and claim the vast majority support rail, I beg to differ. I think this poll is very skewed." The member said his own poll would have asked his constituents different questions: “Right now the question should have been specific: Do you favor rail going from a corn field to a shopping center? Do you believe the GET should be extended beyond the year 2022 if we don’t have enough money? Are you in favor of paying 4.25 interest in floating bonds?”

Rule #1

We don’t know the wording of the basic principle of public opinion polling, but surely it goes something like this: “Do not influence the poll’s outcome by the questions you ask.” QMark’s survey technique passes that test. The company's report on its May survey says pollsters began their dialogue with the 900 respondents to the survey with this truthful statement and no other commentary:

“The City and County of Honolulu is moving forward with the development of a 20-mile rail transit line that will connect West Oahu with Honolulu International Airport and Ala Moana Center.”

The survey report continues: “Residents were then asked to rate their overall level of support for this project and were instructed to quantify their perceptions using a standard four-point rating scale with they strongly support this project assigned a value of four and they strongly oppose it assigned a value of one."  The 57-to-40 percent split in favor of rail was the response.

Stopping Short

Those who don't believe District 1’s support for rail sometimes accuse the City of lying to the public or withholding information that, if released, would have been injurious to the rail project.

For example, the Council member quotes Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka as saying “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.” That quote is used as something of an indictment; it’s from Mr. Yoshioka’s 25-page letter of June 11, 2010 responding to Cliff Slater of Stop Rail Now and

Rail opponents don't include Mr. Yoshioka’s entire quote, however. They stop short and therefore deliberately leave out the essence of Mr. Yoshioka’s response. The graphic immediately below is lifted from Mr. Yoshioka's letter, which is found on pages 1251-52 in Appendix A of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. (The Appendix is a big file; be prepared for a long download.) If the graphic is too small to read with comfort, click it to enlarge.
Here are the crucial sentences in Mr. Yoshioka’s response that are never mentioned by rail opponents : “The comparison that is key to the Project is that rail will improve conditions compared to what they would be if the Project is not built.” And: “Accordingly, traffic conditions will be significantly better with the fixed guideway compared to the No Build Alternative.”

Ignoring the entire quote follows Mr. Slater’s lead in obfuscating rail’s positive impact on traffic congestion. As we’ve noted at Yes2Rail repeatedly since last July when Mr. Slater sat for a video interview with Civil Beat, promoters of the “traffic will be worse with rail than without it” argument are deliberately confusing the public on the issue. Mr. Slater also stops short in discussing rail. Here’s what he told Civil Beat about how he begins his presentations:

“In talking to groups about rail, I tell them that there’s really two things you need to know about it. Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Of course, it doesn’t do anything of the sort. Mr. Slater and those who follow this truncated argument leave out the rest of the story – that traffic would be even worse without the rail system. When asked by the City Council last July to respond to Mr. Slater’s summing up of the argument, Mr. Yoshioka responded:

“No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.”

The Bottom Line

Every City Council district, including District 1, registered majority support for rail in QMark's poll after years of opponent campaigning that ignored rail’s positive contribution in reducing future traffic congestion. In other words, even with opponents describing rail in the worst possible light (see Mr. Slater's Civil Beat video), Oahu residents overwhelmingly support the Honolulu rail project. That's a reality that the politicians who run the City and County of Honolulu presumably can't ignore.

1 comment:

sumwonyuno said...

I haven't formally taken a statistics course, but I do know that polls need a RANDOM sample of the population. It is unfeasible to ask everyone, so the next best thing is to get a small group that is representative of the greater population. Basically, the number of the sample size and the margin of error are related. Bigger sample size, smaller margin of error.

Pollsters just need enough of a sample size to get under a 5% margin of error. Beyond this 5% threshold, you need more people to get further accuracy; it gets exponential. 900 is a good number for Oahu's population.

Anti-railers allege the poll was biased. It's ironic if they want in on a poll, because catering to one opinion is exactly what not to do in a scientific poll.