Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Manipulating the Polls

The Tampa Tribune today published the results of a transportation poll in an article they titled Hillsborough poll shows support for all transit options that reported
Also strongly favored at 73 percent was increasing transit options to include toll lanes on interstates, a high-speed ferry from southern Hillsborough to MacDill Air Force Base, and a light rail system.
After speaking with Eric Johnson at county center, the Eye found out it wasn't the county who was publicizing the results of their poll today.  It wasn't the county who handed the results to Salinero.  It wasn't even Salinero of the Tribune asking the county for the poll results.  We are told the county had planned to publicize the results at next weeks Transportation Policy Leadership Group meeting.

It was Kevin Thurman, a paid lobbyist as Executive Director of the pro transit group Connect Tampa Bay, who requested the poll results from the county.  It was Kevin Thurman who handed the results off to Mike Salinero.  Since that information was not pointed out in Salinero's article, readers probably thought Salinero got the poll results directly from the county or Transportation Policy Leadership Group.  We wonder how the Transportation Policy Leadership Group must feel about a poll they sanctioned being released to the media before they have had a chance to review and comment on the results.

The subtitle of the print version of Salinero's article states
Poll shows 82%of people in Hillsborough favor more bus routes, 73% like light rail. 
What was left out of that subtitle was that 81% favor improving and maximizing our existing assets first (see findings below). 

The handling of how this poll was released to the media forced those in the County who sanctioned the poll to speak with Salinero for some clarification.
The poll, conducted May 4-8, was light on specifics (emphasis mine), and that was by design, said Eric Johnson, the county’s director of strategic planning and grant management. Johnson said the transportation policy group wanted an early indication of whether the public supports the county’s quest to improve transportation on a broad scale. Later polls will get more specific on projects and funding.
“Basically what I think comes out of this is we really validated the people agree with our approach,” Johnson said. “We’re not at the point of describing specific projects; we’re not at the point of asking, ‘If you like these projects are you willing to pull out your wallets and pay for them?’”
So the poll was intended to validate an "approach" the county was using to get to a future conclusion on specific projects but the Tribune article pushes the narrative that 73% like light rail. This was the actual content question in the poll:
Poll question regarding "innovative" transportation solutions
And the Key finding was:
Poll result reflecting support for "innovative" transportation solutions
Some respondents must have picked up on lumping all these solution into one question because this poll question had the highest number who opposed, almost 25% disagreed.  Did the Tribune report that finding?
Largest opposition was question including light rail
The question was regarding "innovative" transportation solutions and then stated various options as examples.  It FORCED anyone answering the question to agree with the statement that residents in Hillsborough county "want it all" even if they may only agree with one or two of the options stated.  Talk about a leading question.  

Innovative transportation solutions could also include building out more MetroRapid BRT's, reducing regulations and enabling ride sharing services like Uber, Lyft to compete in Hillsborough County or allowing Jitney taxis or eliminating the $50 minimum limousine charge or opening up the skies to jet packs, flying cars and deliveries by drones. It could be embracing autonomous vehicles or the next new technology that becomes available. 

The poll also included this question:
Poll question regarding adding capacity where needed
Why does the question include a statement that widening roads is "more costly and takes more time" That appears to be an editorial open ended negative description. Roads are more costly than what?    95-98% of us use the roads everyday, including the buses. Light rail, the most subsidized mode of transit, isn't costly? Roads take more time than what? Than light rail that takes decades, if ever, to build out?  

Remember the media previously reported a concern from transit supporters about "leading" poll questions in their report about a poll done a couple of months ago showing opposition to Greenlight Pinellas.  We previously posted here the Tribune's report regarding that poll:
A new poll on the Greenlight Pinellas campaign to build a light-rail system and put more buses on the road has sparked controversy about whether the survey misled residents. 
But transit supporters say the questions written by McKalip were designed to skew the results (emphasis mine).
Maybe it's selective concern about "leading" poll questions.

The polling company the county used for this poll, Florida Opinion Research, is one that has done transportation polls before. They did a poll for Polk County on the way to Polk County commissioners voting this year to put a transportation sales tax increase referendum for roads and buses on the November ballot.

As reported, those polled were 1100 "residents" of Hillsborough county.  The poll attempted to capture both home and workplace zip codes to help find out results from those areas the county has already deemed "work centers" and the poll did include cell phone users.  They specifically avoided targeting voters because how to fund any of these options was not included in what they deem is this more broad based poll.

Improving bus routes did poll the highest at 82% but it also had the highest percentage of those who were unsure or refused to answer.
Result of question inferred to be about expanding bus service
The second highest support at 81% was this poll question regarding maximizing our existing assets by improving traffic flow and intersection improvements. For all the "noise" about Millenials do not want to drive and want to use transit, the Key Findng of this poll is that Millenials favored this option the most.
Highest support for maximizing existing assets is with Millenials
Also included in the Key Findings for this question is what we have stated previously about ensuring we maximize our existing infrastructure FIRST.

What information do the results of this poll provide?  Not much except there is support for transportation improvements but any specifics are unclear.

Public out reach from the Transportation Leadership Policy Group will begin soon and more polls will be forthcoming.  Next polling needs more information regarding specific improvements - the financials, the cost/benefit, the return on investment, timeframes, ridership, fiscal sustainability in the long term, will it help reduce traffic congestion for each separate option.

Different transportation solutions or options should NOT be lumped into a single poll question.  Each option should stand on it's own financial, return on investment, and realistic timeframe merits. Those being polled should be able to differentiate and answer each option separately.

Maybe next time the Transportation Leadership Policy Group, who sanctions the polls, will get to review the results before a lobbyist or the media reports their spin.

But the "let's do it all, something for everyone" comprehensive approach was tried before in Hillsborough County with the Community Investment Tax.  We know how that turned out.  Do we want to go down that path again?

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