CHSRA Poll: 76% Support High Speed Rail
The California High Speed Rail Authority’s public outreach contractor, Ogilvy PR, recently commissioned a poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies on Californians’ attitudes about the HSR project. The full memo is below. The “topline” is that 76% support the high speed rail project. Just over half of those folks express “concerns” about the project’s funding, but those concerns have not cooled their enthusiasm for the project.
From the Authority’s press release:
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,” 42 percent saying they would like to see the high-speed trains built despite some concerns over cost and timing, and only 13 percent indicating opposition to the project.
Some might take the 42% stat to claim that the public is turning against HSR. But in response to a later question, clear majorities say we should move ahead:
When offered two statements about the project, as detailed in Figure 3, nearly twice as many voters indicate that the benefits of the train make it worth moving forward with the investment now, as opposed to delaying based on uncertainties about costs, ridership, or environmental impacts.
I read these as saying that the attacks on the project by opponents, going after the financing and ridership numbers, have caused some Californians to have “concerns” – but voters seem to believe those concerns will be addressed, because they are nowhere near a point of saying “we should not build this project.”
Any big public project that’s worth building will have questions and concerns about cost and timing. What matters isn’t that such concerns exist, but that they are effectively addressed, and that they don’t turn the public against a project. Some may quibble whether these issues are being effectively addressed – I believe they are – but based on this poll, nobody can say with a straight face that Californians don’t want high speed rail. They clearly do.
Some other details that are relevant: the more people learn about HSR, the more strongly they support it. Californians would prefer to take a train rather than fly or drive between two regions of California if the costs of the train were lower, and there is every reason to believe that by 2020 the cost of both driving and flying will be very high.
Some might respond to that latter question by saying the survey only asked about individual travelers, and that there might be savings for, say, a family driving to LA from SF rather than taking the train. That might be true here in 2010. It’s not likely to be true in 2020, thanks to peak oil and its impact on fuel costs. Further, driving has significant time and opportunity costs compared to the train, from loss of useful work or vacation time to loss of opportunity to be connected to your online devices and projects.
The memo didn’t break out the numbers by region. The sampling was weighted by region, so the proportion of those surveyed in the Bay Area, for example, was proportional to the percentage of Bay Area residents in the whole population of California.
However, I have seen other polling specific not only to the Bay Area, but to the Peninsula, that indicates similar levels of support exist there as well, and that these “concerns” are actually much less widely held there. You’ll all be hearing more about that specific poll soon enough.
But the takeaway here is clear: Californians still support high speed rail in very large numbers, and despite understandable concerns about making sure such an expensive project is done properly, they still want this project to go forward. Once long-term federal funding is secured, I would fully expect that the numbers of “as quickly as possible” supporters to rise significantly.
You’ll almost certainly hear some members of the media question why the CHSRA is doing a poll like this. On a conference call with the media, CHSRA Deputy Director Jeff Barker indicated that this was a common practice among state government agencies such as the Treasurer’s office, the CHP, and others.
But it’s probably not going to be enough for Tracy Wood of the Voice of OC. She’s written a lot of anti-HSR articles, and her bias has long shown through her work. Hearing her on the call today, however, removed any slight remaining doubt that she is a strong opponent of this project and not at all interested in giving the project a fair shake. Her questions were all based in the assumption that the CHSRA shouldn’t be doing this poll or that it somehow put its thumb on the scale to produce favorable results, despite denials from Barker and the pollster that any such thing was done.
Some of you might reply by saying I’m biased in favor of the project, so who cares if Wood is biased against it? The difference is that you all know I am a project supporter. I wear my enthusiasm for HSR on my sleeve. When you read this blog, you can’t miss that. In fact, here’s what I say on my About page:
Robert Cruickshank founded this site in March 2008 to fill gaps. There wasn’t a good, independent source of information online about high speed rail, and there didn’t seem to be any active grassroots advocacy for the project and Proposition 1A. During 2008 this blog played a key role in not only filling those gaps, but providing important facts, analysis, and arguments for California’s high speed rail project.
But if you go to the Voice of OC site you’d see no such disclaimer. You’d think you were getting unbiased, neutral coverage, when in fact you’re not.
I don’t mind if Tracy Wood wants to oppose the HSR project and write articles tearing it down. That’s her right. But she should at least let readers know that she is against this project. That way, readers can judge for themselves what she writes with the full information they need to do so.
Overall, this poll proves what I’ve always been saying: Californians still support high speed rail and still want it built. Hell, I even have my own concerns about parts of the project, but like 76% of this state, I am confident those issues will be resolved and that the project will get built.
Let’s hope that our state and federal representatives understand that information. In fact, the occasion of this poll release was that CHSRA CEO Roelof van Ark will be traveling to Washington, DC shortly to present this information to Congressional leaders – exactly the people who need to hear that Californians want high speed rail to be built.