We’re following Civil Beat’s example today by reviewing some of March’s significant rail-related developments. One that deserves a second look was Civil Beat’s public opinion poll on the Honolulu rail project that we still believe was seriously flawed.
Civil Beat led its March 5th rail coverage with this headline: Civil Beat Poll – Honolulu Voters Oppose Rail Project. But then came this opening paragraph: “The tide of public opinion is running strongly against Honolulu’s proposed rail project, according to a new Civil Beat poll.”
That was something of a shock to rail supporters in light of three previous scientific surveys that averaged 57 percent support for rail, so we wondered how the poll could come to its ebbing-tide conclusion. We found an answer in the poll’s methodology and posted about it the same day.
The survey sampled opinion only among likely voters on Oahu; non-voters' views weren't solicited. That approach may have been valid in learning which of the three major candidates was leading the race at the time, but rail will serve everyone, including the approximately one-half of the population that doesn’t regularly vote.
Non-voters’ opinions are every bit as valid on rail as voters’ opinions, especially since non-voters are statistically more likely to be dependent on transit than the more engaged, higher-educated and higher-income residents who regularly vote. And isn't government charged with serving all residents regardless of their voting patterns?
Sampling both voters and non-voters might have produced a story with this headline: Rail’s loss of favor among voters doesn’t reflect attitudes of entire population. We just don’t know because of the poll’s methodology, but based on past polls, we think it highly unlikely rail is going out with the tide.