Gordon Werner/Flicrk

Back in March Sherwin had a great post on polling and context, using an Elway poll as reference.  Yesterday Elway released an updated poll conducted in the aftermath of the Skagit Bridge Collapse.  From the Seattle Times ($):

A gasoline tax remains particularly objectionable, opposed by 63 percent of those in the new survey — down from 72 percent in March.

In the new survey, 53 percent opposed a license-tab tax increase, down from 62 percent in March.

And 52 percent opposed tolling major roadways, down from 61 percent in March.

Overall, 54 percent of those in the new survey agreed with the statement that we cannot afford to raise taxes to pay for transportation improvements at this time. Forty percent said we can’t afford not to improve our transportation system, so taxes will have to be raised.

For transit supporters this is a mixed result.  While many feel the current highway expansion package is flawed and hope it will fail (see comments at link), most agree that we need to raise the gas tax and other user fees in order to maintain what we already have and fund alternatives to driving.

Thankfully, an EMC poll was released today with starkly different results.  On the surface the poll subject seems similar, but Erica Barnett at PubliCola made some good points about differences between the two. However, I think she missed the most important distinction.  The Elway poll asked only about unspecified “transportation improvements” while the EMC specified a “statewide transportation package this year to address congestion and safety issues; fund road and bridge maintenance and improvements; and provide additional transit funding.”

In other words, when the question is framed as Fix It and Transit, it wins across the board.

21 Replies to “After Bridge Collapse, Voters Appear Mixed on Transportation Taxes”

  1. Easy solution: stop all road expansion projects and focus on maintenance and seismic retrofitting. That eliminates billions in planned spending, so the current taxes should be more than sufficient to fund the department.

    1. Can someone please explain why WSDOT is so unaccountable for their spending? How can they get away with stuff like the pacific gateway or N Spokane corridor when bridges all over the state are literally falling apart? Especially when polls like this show that people don’t want to waste billions on projects like these.

  2. I love how pollsters use the margin of error (+/- 5%) to legitimize their results. Then when you compare polls on the same subject matter you get as Mathew says “… starkly different results”
    The PUSH POLL is becoming a favorite tool of the PR departments, so I tend to discount a lot of the science being foisted on us, in favor of waiting for election day.

    1. I love how pollsters use the margin of error (+/- 5%) to legitimize their results


      Margin of error is merely a way of statistically summarizing the value of the numbers based on sample size, assuming the sample is properly selected. I don’t know what you mean by “legitimize” here.

      The PUSH POLL is becoming a favorite tool of the PR departments

      Obviously, neither of these are push polls. Push polls have a much larger “sample size” (but with no effort to be a representative sample) and their results aren’t published because the results aren’t the point; the biased information contained in the questions is what they’re for. I have no idea why you’d bring up push polls in the context of either of these polls, but their existence is irrelevant

      It’s quite reasonable to be skeptical that polling this soon before the election, before either side has pressed their message of campaigned much at all. If you think public opinion polls have no scientific validity whatsoever, you haven’t been paying attention. When the uncertainty in the process is treated properly, modern polling is a valuable and effective tool.

      1. I agree the margin of error is a statistical term, but often times is implied how accurate the results of the survey was. I can’t remember the last time a pollster corrected someone, saying “our poll may have been total crap, but was 5% accurate according to the sample size”

    2. Margins of error are driven by sample size, I am glad that public education is working out for ya.

  3. The optimist in me thinks that combining this with ST2’s success after the roads and transit failure shows that people are done with road building and want more transit.

    The pessimist in me thinks our state is just filled with anti-tax nuts that wouldn’t vote for a tax increase if the bridge their mother is on is about to collapse.

    I’m afraid the pessimist is more right.

    1. Or maybe gas tax is just particularly difficult, and that people who would otherwise be receptive to a package instinctively recoil when presented with gas tax increases? There is perhaps no other single commodity whose price is so widely and visibly advertised, and whose fluctuations are used as a lazy proxy for broader CPI trends. It’s a lot harder to raise a tax that voters will be reminded of every time they’re near a gas station.

      1. Sure, people seem to particularly oppose a gas tax, but they were also against tolling, license fees, and the general statement that we need to tax ourselves (in any way) to pay to fix our roads*. It seems to say a lot that Washingtonians won’t pay for fixing bridges when our bridges are falling down.

        * Ok, I’ll allow that many would interpret “transportation improvements” as new roads, rather than repairing existing roads. There goes the optimist in me again.

      2. Washington State has a notoriously regressive tax structure and I can’t blame people for feeling reluctant to make it worse, no matter how worthy the cause. We need to either reduce our ambitions or find a more progressive source of public funds.

      3. I think our history shows that people recoil from the MVET even more than they do for the gas tax. Partly, I think, that’s because the MVET comes all at once, as a huge annual bill. Partly it’s because the pre-2010 depreciation curve was so unfair to owners of new-ish but not brand-new cars. Gas tax, by contrast, is at least extremely easy to understand and not subject to accusations of preferential treatment.

        And Mars Saxman has a point. Our current taxing methods 1) suck and 2) have reached rather high levels (except for the property tax, which is very moderate by national standards). We need to replace a good chunk of that sales tax with a small income tax, which requires as little action as possible from taxpayers beyond filling out the existing federal tax form. (A postcard state return should be enough.)

      4. Why do we need to increase the gas tax? WSDOT has three mega-projects on the table right now and in almost every aspect the most expensive option was chosen. Add to that the massive list of projects WSDOT is pushing for in order to satisfy future sprawl-induced demand. Throwing more money at WSDOT will make the problem WORSE not better.

        People in this state hate the MVET because it was so arbitrarily assessed and overly excessive in many cases. WSDOT took advantage of the MVET and the people fought back.

      5. “A postcard state return should be enough”

        Just wait until those moochers in Oly get a hold of it. Need a break for the starving illegal latino kid. Then don’t forget Jethro over in Ferry county needing a break on his mom’s meth treatment. Please. Our tax structure has worked well for decades. It is the spending structure that needs to be revamped.

      6. Our tax structure worked better while we still had the MVET. Transportation funding has been careening from crisis to crisis since that critical funding source was eliminated.

    2. It’s both. Washingtonians want better transit and road maintenance AND they want it for free. We can overcome that and get voters to approve new taxes – we did just 8 years ago – but only if we organize for it.

      1. Nobody is stopping you writing a check to the State treasury. Oh wait you want someone else to do it.

        Got it.

  4. Why is Blane allowed to collect a $.01 gas tax in order to pay for their roads but Seattle can’t do the same for transit?

    1. Because the state constitution restricts use of gas tax revenues to “highway purposes.” So far, transit hasn’t been considered part of “highway purposes.”

      That said, others here have been all over ways in which local governments could redirect other funds from “highway purposes” (i.e. roads) to transit if they got new gas tax money to pay for roads.

  5. Just keep in mind that public opinion can be changed. I know there are a lot of engineers and numbers geeks here, but public opinion is not the same thing as a ridership count or a walkscore or population density. You can change public opinion just by undertaking consistent, coherent organizing steps to do so.

    I would add that Elway’s polls always trend more conservative and thus are not as reliable. EMC has a much better track record. But most importantly, these are snapshots in time. If people here actually care about getting transit taxes approved or placed on the ballot they can get it done, if they’re willing to organize for it.

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