Civil Beat’s poll question regarding the proposed undersea cable to move electricity generated on other islands to Oahu provided another example of a basic lesson in survey research–How you pose the question often determines the answer.
The survey asked registered voters, “Do you support or oppose Hawaii’s plan to construct underwater cables between some of the islands to transmit electricity from wind, geothermal, solar, and other power sources?”
The plain vanilla wording of the question assumes several things. It assumes people know enough about the “plan” to have an informed decision. It assumes they are familiar with the actual or potential negative environmental, social, and economic impacts of the cable, and assumes they weigh the pros and cons in order to come to a conclusion, “support” or “oppose.”
If those assumptions aren’t true, then the poll result doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things. Does it show that opponents of the project have not yet gotten the attention of the general public? Perhaps. But it certainly doesn’t support the Civil Beat headline, “Hawaii wants undersea cable.”
What if the question was phrased in a way that reminded respondents of the controversial aspects of the cable?
There are lots of possibilities. I’ll suggest several.
Q: Do you support the state’s plan to construct underwater cables to transmit electricity through environmentally sensitive Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary?
Q: Do you think the State should be able to impose major energy projects on local communities, like a proposed wind farm with 90 turbine towers, each 42 stories high, despite near unanimous opposition of residents?
Q: Should the state give priority to locally produced renewable energy projects or spend upwards of $3 billion building an inter island transmission system so that neighbor island sources will power Oahu’s energy future?
Those are not elegant, but what do you expect with the first cup of coffee in the morning?
Write your own version of the question and post it as a comment, below.