USC/Los Angeles Times High-Speed Rail Poll Misleads Public

CA4HSR Analysis Reveals Bias in Poll Questions  

San Francisco, CA, June 4, 2012 – Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR), a grassroots, statewide coalition of HSR supporters, issued the following statement and analysis about the newly released USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times high-speed rail poll:

“CA4HSR is deeply concerned by the misleading nature of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times high-speed rail poll. Several of the survey questions set-up false choices and contain he-said, she-said statements in the absence of well-researched and accurate information, thus unfairly influencing and biasing poll respondents,” said Daniel Krause, executive director of Californians For High Speed rail.

“We feel the poll has done the public a great and unfortunate disservice. It continues a pattern in our public discourse that downplays the positive impacts of HSR. The public has been inundated by false claims that HSR will compete with schools and other priorities while it is shut out from hearing about how HSR will generate significant revenue for the State over the next few years and how it will lay the foundation for long-term economic prosperity and environmental transformation. Unfortunately, the USC-Los Angeles Times poll’s line of questioning continues to skew the debate against HSR.

CA4HSR is confident that given information – based on expert opinion rather than the hearsay from those biased against the project – Californians would fully embrace moving forward with the HSR project,” said Krause.

CA4HSR Analysis of USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll Questions

Below is CA4HSR’s analysis of HSR-related questions from the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles times May 17-21st, 2012 poll. (Note: not all questions are analyzed as some were very straightforward. For some questions listed below, we have listed excerpts instead of full-length texts.) To access the poll, click here.

1a. Excerpt from Poll Question 41:  The total cost of the project has increased by 35 billion dollars.

1b. CA4HSR Analysis: This is a misleading statement. It takes the original constant dollar cost of approximately $33 billion and compares it with a year-of-expenditure cost of $68.4 billion from the new business plan. The original estimate’s year-of expenditure cost was approximately $42 billion. Therefore the actual apple-to-apple costs have increased by around $26 billion. Granted, that this is an increase but not nearly as much as $35 billion.

2a. Excerpt from Poll Question 41Some people say that voters should not be asked to go back to the ballot to vote again….. Other people say that we should put the decision to borrow 9 billion dollars for a high-speed rail project back on the ballot…and there are doubts that the high-speed train can actually turn a profit.

2b. CA4HSR Analysis: Relying on unnamed “some people” for the pro-HSR side and “other people” for the anti-HSR viewpoint, and asking the subject to endorse one of the two viewpoints is not a professional or reliable approach to a poll. Who exactly are these people and do they know what they are talking about? This methodology forces people to endorse either one potentially biased viewpoint or another.

For example let’s take the statement “…there are doubts that the high-speed train can actually turn a profit.” The question needs to be ask, who is doing the doubting? And why are they given such prominence when the experience all over the world has proven that HSR systems are consistently profitable operationally. Nonetheless, the poll goes ahead and asks a question that casts doubt on the profitability in conflict with global experience.

CA4HSR speculates that the assertion doubting profitability is likely emanating from a study called “The CHSRA Knows Their Proposed High-Speed Train Will Forever Need a Subsidy” by Enthoven et. al, the same Peninsula-based group who have claimed HSR will cost over $200 billion. The study challenges the operating costs of the project, hence the potential profitability. The data used for the Enthoven study has been identified as inaccurate by the International Union of Railways, thoroughly debunking the results (though not the fault of the authors, but incorrect nonetheless).

3a. Poll Question 44 - In terms of rail transportation, would you rather the state spend money on a statewide high speed train or improvements to rail transportation in your own area?

3b. CA4HSR Analysis: This question is clearly designed to give the impression that HSR is in competition with local rail systems. This is egregiously misleading because local rail systems will actually benefit tremendously from California HSR program because upward of $2.5 billion of Prop 1A funds will be used to upgrade commuter rail service in HSR corridors and other connecting rail transit systems. HSR funding has only bolstered local and regional rail systems and is certainly not in competition with them.

4a. Poll Question 46 - How often do you think you would use this high-speed rail line between Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area — more than once a week, once a week, once or twice a month, several times a year, hardly ever, or never?

4b. CA4HSR Analysis: While this is a valid question, the results will likely change once people understand the system better and how to incorporate it into their lives. Additionally, HSR would benefit those using highways and airports as congestion would be relieved, easing travel for everyone on all modes.

About Californians For High Speed Rail

Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) is a grassroots, statewide coalition of high speed rail supporters advocating for the high speed rail project approved by California voters in November 2008. Founded in 2005, we exist to educate, inform, and organize Californians about ways they can help make high speed rail a reality in the Golden State. Additionally, CA4HSR also encourages sustainable development of the high speed rail (HSR) system, promotes the building of HSR stations in city centers, transit-oriented developments, as well as developing/improving feeder transit systems. Visit us at: www.ca4hsr.org