Friday, September 08, 2006

Closer look at Crain's poll: those who follow AY project are more critical

So, are people who know more about the Atlantic Yards project more likely to oppose it? Yes, though the results from the Crain's poll weren't as dramatic as I'd have thought.

From Wednesday's Crain's Insider:
ATLANTIC YARDS POLL
The Crain’s poll on Atlantic Yards prompted immediate spin yesterday from project detractors, who claim that the survey showed 60% support for the development because most people know little about it. But of respondents who said they are following the Forest City plan closely, 59% were favorable and 38% were negative. Of those not following it closely, 60% were favorable and 22% were not. The poll also showed that savvy advertising and public relations by Forest City could increase support further. After callers were read three negative statements and then three positive statements about the project, support rose to 71% from 60%. The statements moved Brooklynites the most, raising the borough’s favorable portion to 74% from 60% and reducing the unfavorable portion to 24% from 33%. Support went up among all demographic groups, but the biggest jump was among blacks and Hispanics.

That contradicts to some extent the assessment I made. Yes, those with close knowledge are more critical, but the difference comes from the undecideds, while the support, at least as expressed in this poll, seems consistent.

But my criticisms of the poll questions stand. And why exactly is Crain's hailing the developer's media techniques? Crain's said:
The poll also showed that savvy advertising and public relations by Forest City could increase support further. After callers were read three negative statements and then three positive statements about the project, support rose to 71% from 60%.

What if we inverted some of that logic? Consider this:
The poll also showed design of the poll could increase opposition to the plan. After callers were read three positive statements and then three negative statements about the project, support went down.

Or another way:
The poll also suggested that accurate journalism could counter "savvy advertising and public relations". After callers were told that the Community Benefits Agreement was with handpicked groups and not actually negotiated, unlike CBAs elsewhere, support went down.

An exchange with Crain's

I queried Crain's editor Greg David about the poll, who emailed in response:
The questions were drawn up by Charney Research. We reviewed them, but our revisions were minor matters of fact. This was an independent, professional opinion research firm with no particular interests in the matter.
Doing the poll was my idea. I thought an scientific telephone survey by an independent, professional pollster would add an important element to the debate. I had no preconceived idea of what the results would be.


I responded that, while I didn't doubt him, different questions could have produced a different poll:
Nobody's against affordable housing in the abstract. However, had people been told, say, that most of the affordable housing would be unaffordable to those at Brooklyn's median income (because they earn too little to qualify) or that most would not be available until after 2010, well, the results might be different.

David responded:
All I can say is that Charney had no motive to be anything but professional and had no axe to grind and no interest in the results.

And I responded:
I don't doubt that. But that doesn't mean he fully understands the topic.

Indeed, the quote from Charney in the original Crain's article sounds hubristically conclusory:
The meaning of the poll is that New Yorkers are broadly pro-development, and that includes people in Brooklyn who are close to this project," says Craig Charney, the research firm's president.

Rethinking the housing question

Consider the housing issue, which 83% percent of respondents judged positively. They were asked:
The project will provide 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments. Is this a very important benefit, an important benefit, not an important benefit or no benefit at all?

Consider some alternative ways to ask that question:
The project would include 2,250 low-, moderate-, and middle-income rental apartments, with an average rent of $1542.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but more than half would be too expensive for people at Brooklyn's median income.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but the inclusion of those apartments means the development would be significantly out of scale with its neighbors.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but most wouldn't be built until after 2010, and could be delayed by the market.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but we haven't been told the full amount of the subsidies used to support them.

The project would include 2,250 affordable apartments, but most wouldn't be built until after 2010, unlike city rezonings which require affordable housing to be built along with the rest of project.


The meaning of the poll is that it matters how you ask the questions.

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