Sunday, February 12, 2012

Newspaper’s Rail Poll Can’t Be Taken Seriously: It Was Conducted as Cayetano’s Mayoral Campaign Dominated Broadcast, On-Line, Print Journalism; The Predictable Results Are Easy To Discredit

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s opinion poll on rail (subscription) is not worth the paper it’s printed in. That’s the logical conclusion considering its timing.

This survey was conducted by Ward Research between January 26 and February 5. It started one week after anti-rail Gang of Four member Ben Cayetano officially announced his candidacy for mayor.

The telephonic poll was going on during the former governor’s burst of anti-rail publicity. Aren’t there opinion research ethics that discourage that sort of thing? Apparently there aren’t; the American Association for Public Opinion Research's ethical guidelines say nothing about timing, which is this poll’s black hole of a blind spot.

What did the Star-Advertiser expect? It’s almost beyond belief that the newspaper in this city could overlook the timing issue and commission this survey when the results were so predictable. Mr. Cayetano’s entry into the mayoral race isn’t mentioned in the story until its final paragraph!

Pro-Rail Silence
The Star-Advertiser devoted nearly a thousand words to Cayetano’s candidacy the day after his announcement. A day later the anti-rail candidate received more coverage in a story about the current governor’s decision to not issue an endorsement in the mayoral race. An editorial was devoted to the race that same day, and that was after wall-to-wall broadcast coverage. And so it's gone in print, radio and TV journalism since.

The pro-rail candidates in the mayoral race – Mayor Peter Carlisle and former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell – said comparatively little if anything during the survey period to offset Mr. Cayetano’s stream of anti-rail publicity. Their pro-rail campaigns have barely left the starting line, yet the newspaper felt it just had to do a survey during a period when virtually all media coverage on rail was negative. It's mind-boggling.

What the research company predictably did was uncover the proverbial “snapshot” of public opinion during the time Mr. Cayetano was enjoying an uncritical free pass in the media. With the fawning treatment given the former governor and his views, it’s no shock the poll’s snapshot found dramatically less support for the project among its sampled population, which obviously was influenced by the coverage.

Black Flagging the Poll
The results don’t jibe with the strong support for rail found in previous surveys conducted by two other research companies – OmniTrak and QMark. Support for rail averaged about 58 percent in their three scientific surveys conducted between 2008 and 2011.

Also, pro-rail candidates for mayor thoroughly defeated their anti-rail rivals in the 2008 and 2010 elections, and pro-rail City Charter amendments were adopted by the public in those elections, too.

Now comes this poll – conducted after nearly six months of non-stop anti-rail campaigning by the Gang of Four, culminating with one of the gang member’s announcement that he’s running for mayor to kill the project. He's running against rail with no hint of an actual plan to address the intolerable highway congestion commuters face in the city’s east-west corridor, as we noted on January 20th and several times since. The above graphic topped Yes2Rail the day after Mr. Cayetano's announcement.

Non-Stop Negativity
The Gang launched its public relations effort with a 1500-word newspaper commentary in August that was largely discredited by independent investigative news outlet Civil Beat. Gang members subsequently appeared on Hawaii Public Radio’s Town Square program in September and public television’s Island INSIGHTS the next month.

All four took the stage at the largest Rotary club in Honolulu; gang leader Cliff Slater trotted out his thread-bare anti-rail argument that we’ve taken pains to discredit with numerous posts here at Yes2Rail. Our “aggregation” site has links to many of them beneath the Mr. Cliff Slater (and Friends) heading.

Now Mr. Cayetano has picked it up and is using it in his campaign even though it’s a dumbed-down argument that does no credit to anyone who suggests rail will be a failure if congestion continues to grow after rail is built. Of course it will grow; the population’s going to grow! What Gang members can't or refuse to understand is that rail will be the missing link in our transportation network that will allow commuters to bypass traffic altogether. Judging from today's newspaper story, their followers are similarly blind to this fact.

The Invisible Cloth
The Slater/Cayetano main talking point is intellectually dishonest, yet they continue to use it since the media have failed to expose its naked flaw. The title of Hans Christian Andersen’s short story fits nicely with minor adjustment: “The Candidate’s New Clothes.” Maybe you remember the plot, summarized by Wikipedia:

“A vain Emperor who cares for nothing but his appearance and attire hires two tailors who are really swindlers that promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or ‘just hopelessly stupid.’ The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position….” 
You can see where this is going.

The usual anti-rail suspects will be applauding this 10-day survey as justification to kill Honolulu rail despite abundant evidence that the public has supported the project over a period of several years.

The rest of us now wait and wonder about which prominent person or media outlet will be the first to publicly denounce the deceit.

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