Civil Beat publishes the questionnaire online today; infrequent visitors to the website might be able to read it without signing up for the subscription service.
This survey is known as a “push” poll’ inside the business. It “pushes” a concept or issue at the recipients and asks them to respond. In Civil Beat’s case, the poll pushed “concerns” about the Honolulu rail project.
Not one “benefit” of building rail or riding the train was mentioned in this survey. It pushed only negatives and excluded anything that would qualify as a positive about the project, such as completely avoiding traffic congestion on surface streets, saving considerable time and money with each trip, and more.
Beginning with question 7 and continuing through number 10, the questionnaire asked the respondents to express a level of concern about the rail project – “too expensive,” “will damage Oahu’s natural beauty and landscape,” “not enough people would use the rail line if it is built” and “will disturb Native Hawaiian burials.”
Question 11 asked respondents “which of those issues concerns you most about the rail project” and then listed the concerns again -- won’t solve problems, cost, beauty, not enough use, burials, not concerned, not sure.
Participants in this automated telephone poll heard only concerns – enough presumably to sink a project like this one if not offset by a host of benefits, not the least of which is fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through our increasingly congested urban corridor.
Quite obviously, the Civil Beat poll that mentions only “concerns” and nothing about “benefits” failed the both-sides test.
The AAPOR might also have an opinion about a questionnaire that first mentioned candidates in the one-issue mayoral race (all rail, all the time) before continuing on to the list of concerns about rail. Doing so undoubtedly influenced the responses to the “concerns” questions.
Civil Beat may have innocently stumbled into the opinion survey swamp by commissioning this automated-call push poll, but however it got there, this particular survey quite reasonably can be dismissed as a legitimate and accurate representation of Oahu residents’ attitudes about the Honolulu rail project.
That's not a conclusion we come to gladly. We've admired Civil Beat for its independence and space-unconstrained investigative coverage of the rail project and many other local issues since it launched its online service nearly two years ago.
But like other Honolulu media, Civil Beat can trip itself up when covering Honolulu rail – a project too big and complicated to be easily explained in two-minute TV stories (where most people get their news) or even in long newspaper and online pieces.
All media are encouraged to devote more time becoming acquainted with rail before they report on it, including rail's goals and benefits. Citizens need complete coverage if they're expected to have informed opinions about the biggest construction project in state history.