Field Poll: Voters want to reconsider HSR

Californian voters by a margin of more than two-to-one want the Legislature to call another referendum election on whether the state should proceed with its high speed rail project, according to Field Poll results released today.

The California High Speed Rail Authority last month announced its projected costs would be more than double its previous, $43 billion estimate, and that the project will take twice its original 10-year timetable.

The poll found 64 percent want lawmakers to give voters another crack at the project, while 30 percent don’t. Independent voters are most likely to want a re-vote (77 percent) followed by Republicans (66 percent) and Democrats (57 percent).

Here’s how Field phrased the question:

“Nine billion dollars in state bonds were approved by California voters for the High Speed Rail project in the November 2008 election. At the time, the project’s estimated cost was $43 billion and its targeted completion date was 2020. More current estimates now put its cost at $98 billion and its completion date as 2033. Some think that the state legislature should resubmit the bond package to voters for another public vote next year. Regardless of how you feel about the project, do you favor or oppose the legislature putting the 9 billion dollar state bond package to another public vote in next year’s statewide elections?”

Progressive activist and high-speed rail supporter Robert Cruickshank blogged today that the phrasing wasn’t fair. “I would be shocked if the outcome was any better for the HSR project given the way the question was asked,” he wrote at his California High Speed Rail Blog.

“But what if the question were asked differently? We know that the cost questions are not the only issue associated with the project,” he continued. “Gas prices are rising, airfares are rising, flying is inconvenient, people prefer high speed trains to planes when given the choice, we need to reduce carbon emissions to reduce global warming, the cost of alternative transportation to carry the same amount of people is $170 billion, HSR brings tens of thousands of desperately needed jobs. How would voters respond if the question were framed in that way? The outcome could be very different.”

The Field Poll also found that if such a re-vote were held, the $9 billion bond package narrowly approved in November 2008 would now fail by a wide margin: 59 percent to 31 percent, with 10 percent undecided.

More than three quarters of the state’s voters say they’ve seen, read or heard about the project, so awareness is high.

The Field Poll surveyed 515 registered voters in California from Nov. 15 through 27, with a 4.4-percentage-point margin of error.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • David

    I’m surprised and disappointed that the Field Poll, though generally respected in its field, used “push poll” wording in this question about high-speed rail. Of course people are going to say they are against it when they are primed with inflammatory figures and statements that “some think” it should be changed. I wonder what the results would be if the poll instead had listed all the benefits that will accrue to the state from rail. Quite different, I expect.

  • John W

    Oh yes, indeed. Mr. Cruikshank’s version of how to properly present the polling question is soooo much better! We already had an election in which the voters were asked if they wanted HSR but were not given, or chose not to read the financial facts. Now, they see the facts, and it’s a different story.

    Defenders of charging ahead with the HSR to nowhere, in full knowledge that the funds will not be there to build out the system, like to argue that, if we don’t spend the money on HSR, we’ll have to spend it on roads and airports to accomodate a population of 65 million vs 38 million now. The huge fallacy in that argument is the assumption that a fixed route HSR system will serve the transportation needs of that larger population. Even if we build out the entire system as envisioned (which ain’t gonna happen), we will still need to build more roads and airport expansions to get people to where they really need to go.

  • Truthclubber

    Kill high speed rail. Now.

    Rapid transit has a strong role to play in this highly motorized society as a way to get people to and from work, but NOT to get people to and from places hundreds of miles away — that’s what our modern and well built out air transport system is perfectly equipped to do (and with lots less of that pesky unionized labor…)

  • John W

    Re: #3

    You’re right on, TruthClubber. Upgrading and expanding local rapid transit networks makes far more sense in terms of dealing with future population growth than the HSR project. I mean, we don’t even have the largest city in the Bay Area (San Jose) covered by BART yet after all these years.

  • Truthclubber

    Re: #4

    Agreed. We need FART (Fresno Area Rapid Transit) far more than we need some bitchin’ TGV-like wizzbag, uber-expensive HSR flyin’ past those railside donut shops in Fresno taking 2 people from San Francisco to Los Angeles…