Pollster: Coverage of cost "discrepancies" hurt Hillsborough rail
What went wrong with the Hillsborough County light rail referendum? A post-election poll of Hillsborough voters blames it on questions being raised about fluctuating cost estimates in the late stages of the election. Here's a snipet from pollster Paul Fallon's survey report, which the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority distributed Tuesday afternoon to its members and other transit officials.
What Went Wrong
Even though “Monday morning quarterbacking” can be treacherous and retrospective views can be misleading, the fact that 28% of those who voted against the tax said they would have been more likely to vote for it if the amount had been a smaller one, which just paid for improved roads and expanded bus services, suggests that changing the plan -- or emphasis of the campaign messaging to certain targeted groups -- might have provided enough additional support to achieve victory. Although that could be seen as a repudiation of the light rail system concept, the bigger problem may have been damning 11th hour press coverage leading up to the election that raised questions about discrepancies in the total projected cost for the light rail system. A total of 28% voters, including a whopping 44% of those who voted against the transit tax, said their decision was influenced a lot by possible uncertainty about the total cost of the light rail system! Since a total of 43% of voters said they made their voting decisions within the last four weeks or right before they voted, this points to the need to, whenever possible, have such questions resolved and, perhaps, vetted by responsible media organizations, well in advance of Election Day! Once voters made their decisions, they seemed to become entrenched as only 13% of voters said they changed their minds about how they would vote.
Fallon has conducted polling for PSTA, but agency spokesman Bob Lasher said he didn't believe it was done directly for PSTA because it hadn't gone through its board.
UPDATE: Lasher sent a message Wednesday saying Fallon did the poll on his own without PSTA involvement.