I’m a little suspect of the polls right now in the wake of the national conventions, but as Lee just pointed out, the latest KING5/SurveyUSA poll on Prop. 1 is sure to dishearten the anti-rail crowd that maniacally trolls HA’s comment threads.
When asked about Sound Transit’s proposal to expand rail and bus service, 49% of respondents said that they were certain to vote yes, while only 16% said they were certain to vote no. And when the uncertain respondents were asked whether they lean toward one side or the other, Prop. 1’s advantage expanded to a whopping 65% to 20% margin.
But perhaps more interesting…
Among those who describe themselves as conservatives, those voting or leaning “no” slightly outnumber those voting or leaning “yes.” Among those who identify themselves as Republicans, “yes” slightly outnumbers “no.” Among all other groups, the measure passes by no fewer than 31 points.
So Prop. 1 seems to have pretty damn broad support, even within the constituencies where you would expect the strongest opposition, a finding that is consistent with some internal polling numbers I heard whispered about a few weeks back. Of course, unlike the actual ballot language, the SurveyUSA question didn’t include the $17.9 billion estimated cost, so I’d be surprised to see Prop. 1 pass by such a large margin… but I’d be even more surprised to see it fail.
There are several major differences between this year’s Prop. 1 and last year’s failed measure of the same nomenclature: the proposal, the electorate and the economic reality.
This Prop. 1 is not tied to an unpopular and controversial road expansion package that split the environmental community and dramatically escalated the costs. This Prop. 1 will benefit from the significantly larger and more progressive electorate that tends to turn out in this region during presidential election years. And most of all, this election will occur with memories of $4.50/gallon gasoline still fresh in everybody’s minds… so fresh that bus and commuter rail ridership continues to grow even as gasoline prices have temporarily stepped back from their historic highs.
I know conventional wisdom still suggests that now is the wrong time for Sound Transit to come back with a ballot measure, just one year after the defeat of Prop 1, but the conventional wise men are missing the point: 2008 isn’t 2007. The era of cheap gas is over, and Americans—even Seattle-Americans (and yes, I know, Seattle is different from every other city in the world)—are beginning to change their behavior in response. Voters get that, even if our politicians and editorialists don’t.
Traffic congestion has far from disappeared as a volatile political issue, but public demand for affordable transportation alternatives is rising at least as fast as the price of gas. And the thing is, whether it’s cheaper and more efficient or not, when current drivers envision their future mass transit commute, they much prefer to envision themselves riding on a train, than on a bus. People like trains; that’s a fact. And if I were an elected official, I’d probably want to focus on delivering the services that the people want.
Many of our region’s political and media old timers still seem mired in the auto-centric transportation vision of the 1950’s. But I’m guessing we’ll find out on November 4 that the majority of voters are not.