A new high-speed rail opinion poll was conducted by a Southern California firm, Probolsky Research LLC. They did the polling to see how Californians feel about key issues facing the state. It gives a current pulse of what California voters think about state spending, their priorities and the High Speed Rail project. It seems the public has lost confidence in both since 66.4% s disapprove of state spending and 62.4% would most likely vote to stop the funding for the High Speed Rail project.
The public indicated education was the top priority (75.9%), followed by public safety such as fire and police (69.3%) and social services to care for the less fortunate (64.5%). Next, Water and Irrigation (29.1%), the Environment and clean energy (18.4%) and High-Speed Rail was the lowest rated priority. (11%).
And to put reality more into focus, according to this survey, the more educated the public was about the project, the higher likelihood they would vote to stop the train funding, validating public statements heard many times in public meetings that they would not vote for the project if they knew what they knew now. That same comment was voiced by a resident in Hanford last week from a Mr. Lou Martinez: “I voted for this project. The project that I voted for is not the project that is being proposed. I think its bait and switch, it’s a scam.”
Here’s the survey in its entirety.
The Probolsky Survey:
Here was the actual question asked in the survey about the funding of the project:
If an election were held today to stop the proposed high speed rail project in California, would you vote yes, in favor of stopping California’s high speed rail project or no, against stopping Californian’s high-speed rail project? And would you say that you would definitely or probably vote (yes/no). If unsure would you say that you would lean one way or the other?”
The answer 62.4% would either vote definitely (50.8%), probably (10.3%) or leaning toward defunding the project (1.3%). The pro project response was 31.1% would either vote definitely (19.2%), probably (10.7%) or leaning against (1.2%) stopping the project. The remaining was unsure (5.7%) or refused to answer. (.8%)
And the more they knew about the project, the less likely they would vote to support funding for the High Speed Rail Project.
Who will ride high-speed rail?
The majority of those polled said, “Not me.” 63.3 % said they would be unlikely to ride it. 33.7% likely and 13.1% were unsure or didn’t answer.
Compare these to what the Authority’s Survey said last year
The HSRA press release, http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Survey-Finds-Strong-Support-for-High-Speed-Rail.pdf said that “some 76 percent of Californians indicated support for the project, with 34 percent saying they would like to see the project move forward “as quickly as possible.” This number obviously combined the 34% who favored it with the 42% that said they supported it “with concerns.” Here are the three choices the public was given in the Authority’s survey May 2010:
- I support the project and would like it to move forward as quickly as possible. (34%)
- I would like to see the train built, but have some concerns about the timing and cost of the project. (42%)
- I oppose the project, and would prefer that the train not be built. (13%)
- I don’t know (10%)
Rita Wespi, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD), said in the Palo Alto Patchthat such a statement about 76% supporting the project was a stretch, “They say this survey concludes there is overwhelming support for high-speed rail in the state,” she said. “But it does not do that. It has a small amount of unconditional support, and on top of that it has a small amount of conditional support, and if you add those up sure you get a nice big number.”
A side note about the Authority’s poll but not advertised is what people said when asked if building HSR high, medium or low priority they responded: 21% rated the project as high, 37% rated it medium, and 40% surveyed consider HSR a low priority. And by the way those who said they supported the train with concerns, Question 2 above, only 8% rated it a high priority.
Some have been critical of the newest poll have said that mentioning the cost factor of $66 billion in the Probolsky survey and that federal money had not materialized as expected and no private investment had materialized was not fair. But the Authority’s poll had a dollar amount and much more: Here’s part of the text: “It will be the first high-speed rail system in the nation. Once it is fully built estimates are that it will carry 42 million passengers. The first phase of the project is expected to cost $43 billion dollars. Funding for this first phase, which will run from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim though the Central valley is coming from Voter-approved bonds: 2 billion dollars from the Federal Government; and other public/private partnerships, local agencies and private investors. By law, the system must operate without a Taxpayer subsidy. It is expected to generate a surplus after construction is complete.” Why not give the public an update on the cost and contribution by other agencies since the Authority’s poll gave specifics?
The Authority’s poll was also considered a messaging poll, that is, test themes that are appealing to the public so advertising campaigns could be more effective to the readers. Here are some examples of advertising messages being tested and just possibly educating the public participating in the poll. “The train will produce 10’s of thousands of good, family-supporting jobs; the high speed rail line will attract large amounts of public and private investment to California; High-Speed trains will offer the safest, most secure way to travel in California; High speed rail will reduce the lives lost to car accident and will be secure from terrorist attacks; it will cut the air pollution and smog that has led to skyrocketing rates of asthma in California.” http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/HSR-Survey-May-2010-Toplines.pdf
So what is a “fair poll?” It’s obviously in the eye of the beholder after reading complaints about what some people perceive is bias on the latest poll. Does each side of an issue suffer from “optimism bias?” According to Bent Flyvbjerg, mega project expert, it means that people tend to exaggerate the good factors about projects they believe in and minimize the flaws.
Speaking of optimism bias, just recently, the San Francisco Gate published an article on September 14thin which Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary touted, “We are not going to be dissuaded by a little background noise of criticism because there is loud, loud amount of support for high-speed rail in California.” http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/nov05election/detail?entry_id=97470
The Legislature and the Governor should take heed to these results and understand the push for the train is coming from those who would profit either politically or financially, not those who would pay for it or use it. Much of the “loud, loud support,” is coming from consultants, cities with development to gain, engineering firms, rail car manufacturers, construction companies, local developers and construction unions – – but not from a majority of the public.