Right-Wing Push Poll Attacks HSR Project
I’m kind of surprised that right-wing anti-high speed rail forces didn’t try this stunt sooner. Today a Republican pollster based in Orange County put out a push poll attacking the project. The poll claims to have surveyed 750 California voters who were likely to vote in the June 2012 primary. That’s a pretty small universe, as such primaries are notoriously low in turnout. Further, those low turnout elections usually skew toward the right in terms of who shows up.
But it is the wording of the HSR question that is quite obviously loaded:
Voters passed Proposition 1A in November 2008, authorizing the State to issue new debt in the form of bonds, up to nine billion dollars to help finance high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. When the State takes on bond debt, it can cost up to double the borrowed amount in interest and principal to pay it back. The Proposition required that the bond funds must be matched by funds from the Federal Government or private sources before they can be issued. So far, the Federal government has committed three billion dollars, so the State can issue an equal amount of bonds for high-speed rail. The original construction cost estimates have doubled from 33 billion dollars to 66 billion dollars. With only six billion dollars committed, the project faces at least a 60 billion dollar shortfall. 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 California’s high speed rail project? [RECORD] [IF YES OR NO>>>] And would you say that you would definitely or probably vote (yes/no)?] [IF UNSURE>>>] And would you say that you would lean one way or the other?
In other words, “California is borrowing a lot of money and there’s a $60 billion shortfall – so you wanna do it?” How else would you expect a conservative pool of respondents to react? The poll suggests 62% would vote to stop the HSR project.
Of course, the truth is that there is no such risk. If the rest of the money isn’t found, the whole thing doesn’t get built. Further, given the historic lows in interest rates right now, government can borrow at very cheap rates, making it extremely unlikely that the state will have to repay “double” the amount that was originally borrowed.
It is true that the federal government hasn’t yet come through with its complete share of funding for the project. But then the federal government’s unwillingness to spend money is affecting a whole lot more than just high speed rail. Austerity is threatening the fragile economic recovery, as we risk sliding into a double-dip recession.
Since Probolsky Research isn’t a well-known or vetted polling firm, discounting this obvious push poll is an easy thing to do. A Harris Poll from February 2011 found 70% supported state and federal funding for high speed rail. And in November 2010 Californians elected the pro-HSR Jerry Brown as governor over the anti-HSR Meg Whitman by a 13 point margin. There’s no way those numbers have flipped so dramatically since then, yet another reason to discount this push poll.
But it is clear that anti-HSR forces are interested in stepping up their attack on the project, using this push poll to do it. That bears close watching.