Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Criticism of ‘Likely-Voter-Only’ Opinion Polls Gets a Thumbs Up from UH’s Neal Milner, the Man in Demand on All Things Politics, Plus: Richard Borreca’s Remarkable Rail Ignorance

Like Chicken Man, who was a regular feature on J. Akuhead Pupule's radio show decades ago, University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner “is everywhere!” on election night television coverage and is frequently in the newspaper the next day, too.

It’s therefore satisfying that Dr. Milner agrees with our thesis that the latest public opinion survey on rail has a major flaw: It did not reveal what Oahu residents who are unlikely to vote in the August 11 primary election think about Honolulu rail.

That’s important, because the population segment that doesn’t vote – approximately half of the eligible adults – is less educated, less wealthy and therefore more likely to rely on public transportation.

But the Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll didn’t even ask for their opinions on rail, as Monday’s story on the poll revealed: “The rail question was asked of 509 very likely Oahu voters in the upcoming primary.”

That approach is useful in analyzing the horse race among the three mayoral candidates, but as for judging the entire population’s attitudes on rail, it’s a complete failure. And Professor Milner agrees!

We sought out his reaction to Yes2Rail’s Monday post about the voter-only polling, and he responded by email yesterday:

“Hi Doug, Yes, there are crucial differences between people likely to vote and non-voters.  That is a staple of voting studies.   So the media cannot say that the ‘public’ feels this way about rail.  You of course don't have any recent data that involves a broader sample and the earlier referendum has the same drawbacks on determining what the public wants as the surveys you criticize.  But your criticism is correct, a point for you.  But I think that is not the battle that is being fought here.  The battle is over who is going to be elected mayor, and the poll that includes only likely voters is really the only thing that matters right now.”

Up to a Point
We agree with Professor Milner that predicting the mayoral race winner is the sexiest issue with the greatest potential to alter Honolulu's transportation future, but a poll that completely ignores what probable transit riders think about rail has a big problem, and Dr. Milner agrees.

Government can't favor voters over non-voters in planning and building infrastructure that will last for generations. Any politician who blatantly does that is liable to face indictment for violating the public trust. Just look at a new lawsuit filed by a local bus rider against the City Council alleging decades-long discrimination against minorities and the working poor.

Yet the media’s obsession with the candidate vs. candidate horse race has led the poll’s sponsors to miss that point entirely. The same was true over at Civil Beat several months ago when it, too, surveyed only the likely voters – because of the horse-race orientation.

I have no connection with the two pro-rail candidates and have not contributed to a mayoral candidate’s campaign for years in order to avoid any personal pay-for-play criticism, but I have to believe the pro-rail candidates are working hard to get out the vote among those who’ve fallen out of the voting habit. It’s just a guess, but if they do turn out, there could be some embarrassment among local poll takers.

The Uninformed Columnist
The Star-Advertiser’s Richard Borreca, who is blatantly anti-rail and has validated our January prediction that the paper's three columnists will write not a single paragraph of positive content about the project in 2012, revealed his low rail IQ in yesterday’s column (subscription required). Dave "Volcanic Ash" Shapiro continues the columnists' anti-rail unanimity with his "coffin of Oahu rail transit" column today.

In analyzing the latest poll, Mr. Borreca concludes: “Honolulu voters do more than just dislike the idea. They think it is the wrong idea and want buses instead.” And then comes a repeat of anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater’s primary talking point that has fooled Mr. Borreca about rail’s true purpose:

“First, voters are saying it won’t reduce traffic. About 44 percent say yes, it will cut it, but 54 percent say no, it will not help traffic congestion.”

That is pure Cliff Slater propaganda – suggesting that rail would be a failure if it doesn’t “reduce traffic.” Mr. Borreca has bought that line, and because he and virtually the entire media corps have uncritically repeated that talking point ad nauseum, a majority of the 509 “very likely Oahu voters” who were polled seems to have bought it, too.

As Yes2Rail also has repeated time and again (here's one of many posts on the issue), rail’s purpose is not to reduce traffic – an impossible goal of any plan or project as long as the population continues to grow. Rail will be an alternative travel mode to give users a traffic-free travel experience.

It’s doubtful Mr. Borreca is even aware of Cliff Slater’s statement before the City Council in July 2010: “We don’t disagree at all that rail will have an effect on reducing traffic congestion from what it might be if we did nothing at all....”.

Near the end of his piece, Mr. Borreca misstates rail’s purpose again as he wraps up yet another anti-rail column: “Those three poll questions (on traffic, job creation and spending) make up the backbone of the city’s argument for rail: It is going to create jobs, it is coming in on budget and it will reduce traffic. The poll shows a majority of voters don’t believe any of that.”

If that’s what they believe, it’s not a surprise – precisely because Messrs. Borreca and Slater and their like-minded anti-rail friends have consistently confused the issues. Rail will reduce the rate of congestion’s growth, but it won’t do what Mr. Borreca apparently believes it should – reduce congestion below current levels. Nothing will, including adding more buses to the congestion and/or paving over more of space-short Oahu with more highway lanes.

The true backbone of the Honolulu rail project are its goals, and we doubt Mr. Borreca could recite them if pressed.

The column’s concluding observation left us thinking of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. “…the real reason rail is not winning strong support is because it is not what voters in Honolulu want. The more the city refused to change the plan, the more public frustration will grow and the more it will result in the election of a city leader who will relieve the tension by moving in a new direction.”

In other words, toss out all the years of planning to give Honolulu residents a traffic-avoiding time-saving travel option by transportation experts who do this for a living. Toss out all of that and give citizens what they “want,” which is what the anti-rail faction has told them they want – the impossible dream of less traffic congestion 20, 40 and 60 years from now than we have today.

To which the Stones might reply:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need.

Thanks to the constant repetition of anti-rail propaganda by opinion leaders like Mr. Borreca, It looks as if a narrow majority of “very likely Oahu voters” who were polled don’t know or even care about what the community needs.

END NOTE: Please click on the Comment link, below, and read the top comment, then go to the comments below the July 30 post. They highlight a blatant falsehood in Monday's Star-Advertiser rail story.


Anonymous said...

It's quite revealing that the Star-Advertiser never did bother to run a correction to the clearly and indisputably FALSE statement in the first sentence of the lead story on Monday's front page, that "only 44 percent of Oahu residents" believe work on the rail project should continue.

The poll questioned "very likely Oahu voters," not "Oahu residents," of course.

100 percent of readers should therefore conclude that the people who run the paper don't even read it, aren't smart enough to spot such an obvious error, can't admit they're wrong, or just don't care about publishing blatantly false statements in the days before a highly contested election that could affect Oahu's future for decades.

Roy Kamisato said...

The problem of course is the newspaper was trying to pass the poll off as a public opinion poll. Every issue in this country is a political one. How would Neal Miner feel about a public opinion poll concerning equal rights if only likely voters were polled.

Anonymous said...

i am just now starting to look for information about rail. with what i have been reading, i may have missed on what the costs will be to ride it? also, will it be like the bus pass? for park and ride areas, will there be a charge for parking? will rail be self sustaining or will all tax payers be paying for a limited usage? if the 20% or more vehicles on the road from the west side will change to rail, will that number change as more homes are built or add even more to the traffic? i believe rail will help the construction industry over a long period of time. i believe there are pros and cons for both sides and which is the truth is sometimes hard to tell. if there is a website with easy to understand details, i would like to know it.

Anonymous said...

If Oahu in the end finally rejects rail, then I can confidently write off Hawaii as permanently backward, with an ostrich mentality. This technology called 'locomotion' really has been around for quite a while, and civilization has used it to great devices. I cannot understand why Hawaiians have made the conscious decision to sit in the worst traffic in the nation while at the same time rejecting a solution. Make the quantum leap into the 21st Century, Hawaii!!!