Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Poll Watch: SurveyUSA and Elway on the Roads & Transit ballot measure

There has been some interesting discussion about the recent SurveyUSA poll commissioned by KING5 Television (a subsidiary of Belo Corp.) showing little support for Roads & Transit. Many opponents have gleefully touted the poll as evidence that the package is sinking. Unfortunately for them, the poll is flawed.

The team at NPI has had a longstanding tradition of taking polls with a huge grain of salt. Polls can be deceptive and inaccurate.

A single poll is a snapshot in time and is difficult to draw conclusions from. Trends (looking at groupings of polls over time) are more useful, but still, the only meaningful poll happens on Election Day.

The results of this SurveyUSA poll are inconsistent with the many public and private polls that have surveyed Puget Sound residents about Roads & Transit.

Those polls (like this one) asked questions that were much more neutral, and all of them have found support at fifty percent or higher, with some above sixty percent.

Not all of the SurveyUSA questions in this poll were actually about the package. Only Questions 3 and 4 were. They were asked in a way that all but guarantees a negative result, and were as follows:
Would you support or oppose raising the sales tax by point-five percent to pay for proposed 50-mile extension of Sound Transit light rail?

56% oppose, 37% support, 6% not sure

Would you support? Or would you oppose? Creating a car license tab excise tax of $80 on every $10,000 of a car's value, in order to pay for improvements in state highways, bridges and local roads?

65% oppose, 30% support, 5% not sure
Notice the questions don't even talk about the specific details of the projects. The question about light rail doesn't say where the light rail will go!

(There are later questions asking about how often residents might ride the system which describe the hubs served, but that information was not incorporated into Question 3). And the question about roads and bridges doesn't identify a single project. It's just generic.

All the emphasis is on costs, without any specific explanation of what voters are getting for their money.

SurveyUSA says it interviewed "600 adults" for this robo-poll, and 513 of them "identified themselves as registered voters in Washington".

(Note that robo-polls can't actually verify the identity of the respondent, because the questions are asked of whoever answers. The respondent could be a teenager or out of state visitor - the computer can't tell who presses the buttons.)

The responding households were all from King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, but it appears not all of them live inside the boundary of the Sound Transit/RTID taxing district, which only encompasses the urban areas inside the three counties.

And that's a problem. Asking people who live outside of the boundaries of the district what they think of the package is kind of like asking Idahoans what they think of Governor Christine Gregoire. Idahoans don't get to vote for Washington's governor, so why does it matter what they think of her?

The SurveyUSA poll is flawed, plain and simple, and does not fit the trend. It's a total outlier and shouldn't be taken seriously.

The most recent Elway poll, by contrast, does correspond with the trend. Conducted September 10th-13th, it affirms what previous polling has already shown: after a barrage of attacks against the package in recent weeks, support has held up remarkably well. Overall support was holding steady at 54 percent, within the margin of error of the previous Elway poll, which had it at 57 percent.

Support is broad, and the package has more than a majority in all geographic subareas. The takeaway? Voters know our transportation system is underfunded and they want change. The Roads and Transit package will deliver that change, in a comprehensive, balanced package that offers choices and options.

The polling indicates that neither component of the package musters more than a majority by itself. People seem to like the combination, despite what the Sierra Club has claimed. They want a mix of solutions. And, in fact, many of the RTID projects are explicitly designed to benefit transit.

A no position on Roads and Transit means saying no to an expansion of light rail, HOV lanes, and bike lanes. It means no to improvements in Sounder and ST Express bus service. It's a vote against building a regional network of transit. That's the wrong choice for our future.

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