Monday, March 5, 2012

Civil Beat Editor Responds to Questions about His Rail Poll, Says Maui Call Is ‘Red Herring,’ Defends Telephone Survey that Called Only Likely Voters, a Decision that Excluded Half of Oahu's Residents

This is a follow-up to today’s first post, below, which raised several questions about Civil Beat’s new rail opinion survey that allegedly uncovered a “tide of public opinion (that’s) running strongly against Honolulu’s proposed rail project….”

That summary in the story's lead paragraph doesn’t reflect anything close to what the survey actually revealed.
What was uncovered were attitudes about rail among Oahu's voting population alone, not the entire population, and that’s not enough. Civil Beat can’t reasonably discount a huge segment of Oahu residents  – about 50 percent – because they aren’t regular voters for one reason or another.

We’re long past the Poll Tax era in America, yet Civil Beat would have you believe the tide is running against rail based only on voters' attitudes. Whatever happened to the concept of removing rail from politics?

And that’s not the only eyebrow-raising feature of this survey. Fully 70 percent of the respondents have college degrees, according to what’s been published at Civil Beat. That’s approximately 40 percentage points higher than what the the Hawaii State Data Book says the population has attained – 29.6 percent in 2009 with a “bachelor’s degree or more.”

Education, Income and Transit
So in addition to not sampling citizens in the half of the population that doesn’t regularly vote, the Merriman Group’s results are way out of line with the state’s actual education levels. That also matters, because the more education a person has, the greater the earning power and the less likelihood a person will ride transit.

The Federal Transit Administration says in one of its publications: “Lower income-households are more transit-dependent and less likely to own a car than other demographic groups, and are more likely than higher-income households to use transit for non-work trips during ‘off-peak’ hours.” There are numerous online references to the impact of education and income on transit use.

Another way to evaluate the poll’s results is to anticipate the effect on transit ridership that current and future increases in the cost of gasoline will have on the population. The American Public Transit Association recently issued a press release that said, based on current gas prices, Honolulu residents can save $949 a month and $11,388 a year by giving up one car and using TheBus instead.

Rising gas prices matter more to those with fewer financial resources – which again means by being so focused on the other end of the education/income scale, the Merriman Group survey didn't reflect how the broader population will be likely to react to those increases – by riding transit.

Civil Beat Responds
In the hours since our initial post, Civil Beat has told us that only seven neighbor island residents completed the survey, “and it’s likely that many more were called and did not complete the poll.” The polling company caught the error and removed all neighbor island respondents from the final result, CB says. Editor John Temple called our interest in the neighbor island calls a “red herring” – a pretty remarkable assessment in light of the magnitude of the mistake, calling neighbor island residents about Oahu issues.

Mr. Temple (at right) wrote to us six times today regarding our questions about his survey’s integrity, including two or three times about the poll's focus on voters only. In one he said: “We didn't ‘exclude’ voters. We sampled the population that will vote.” Another said: “I wouldn't have done (the) poll this way if I didn't believe it would produce the most accurate reflection of what would happen at the polls if the election were held today.”
In narrowing the focus to voters only, however, Civil Beat and the Merriman Group seem to have discounted entirely one of the main reasons to create the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation in the first place – to remove the rail project from the ebb and flow of politics.  In so doing, they're reducing the rail project to a popularity contest at election time.

Another response from Mr. Temple said, “I don’t believe you will find a poll in Hawaii that has shared more about its methodology than the Civil Beat poll. Look what’s on the site today. Read the methodology….” It’s not the methodology's transparency that concerns us. It’s the methodology itself, for reasons we’ve outlined above.

Mr. Temple also suggests we’re upset with his poll because we don’t like the results. We responded that he was only half right. The other half is that we’re questioning the validity of the methodology – a legitimate inquiry that’s intended to help all of us better understand the survey's results.

April 2013 Update: The 2012 mayoral election pitting pro-rail Kirk Caldwell and anti-rail ex-Governor Ben Cayetano validated our view of public opinion on this issue. Mr. Caldwell won with a solid majority. Mr. Temple has moved on and up to become the Washington Post's managing editor. 

No comments: