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What do people think about I-69?

A few weeks ago, the Indiana Daily Student noted in an editorial that the extremist group Earth First "claims to represent the 94 percent of Indiana residents who oppose the road". The IDS was right in stating that claim is "delusional". Where would that 94% number come from? The Bloomington Alternative reports:

Of the 21,873 comments on the 2002 I-69 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, 94 percent (20,467) were opposed to Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s preferred new-terrain route through Bloomington or in favor of the U.S. 41/I-70 alternative.

Note that there is one very important word in that quote: comments. Were 94% of the people who commented opposed to the Interstate, or were 94% of the comments in opposition? How many people wrote more than one comment to state government on the issue? While people have every right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances" multiple times it does harm the usefulness of using the comments to measure public opinion.

Claiming that the 94% figure is a true representation of what Hoosiers think about I-69 is delusional or dishonest. Most likely, it is the latter. First, counting comments to state government on the issue is hardly a scientific sample. These people were not chosen at random. Instead, they sought out the opportunity to be heard. Furthermore, groups such as Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads mobilize their members against the highway. There is much more of an incentive for opponents of a project like I-69 to comment than for supporters to do so.

So what do people think about I-69?

  • A poll conducted by Fernandez's mayoral campaign in 1999 found that "46 percent 'strongly favored' or 'somewhat favored' I-69 going through Bloomington", according to the Herald-Times.
  • Another poll conducted in 2002 by the Marketing Research Institute of Pensacola, Florida on behalf of the Monroe County Republican Party found that "48 percent favored the extension (of I-69) through Monroe County and 34 percent opposed it", according to the Herald-Times.
  • A telephone survey of 600 households in 12 counties conducted by the Herald-Times in 2002 found that "65 percent support extending Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville" and "49 percent favor a new-terrain route through or near Bloomington".
  • Even a poll conducted by opponents of Interstate 69 found that "35 percent favored 41-70 and 31 percent favored the new-terrain route", according to the Bloomington Alternative.

Some I-69 opponents are quick to dismiss polls done by or for the local GOP or John Fernandez, a Democrat who supports I-69. Unless critics of these polls can show that the polls themselves are flawed, dismissing these polls outright is an ad hominem logical fallacy.

Do candidates for elective office or political parties sometimes conduct polls that slant the results? Yes. But before one jumps to that conclusion about either the Republican poll or the Fernandez poll, you have to consider the purpose of the polls. Was it a "push poll" designed to change minds, was it slanted to get good press, or was it an effort to find out what people really think?

One reason that politicians and political parties pay for polls is because they want to know what the voters think so they can tailor their message or emphasize certain issues. It would be mind-numbingly stupid to slant such a poll to get the results you want. Furthermore, even implying that a candidate or political party would rely on a "push poll" to get accurate results of what people think on an issue completely and utterly obliterates one's credibility.

You also have to consider the realities of our electoral system. Former Governors Evan Bayh and Frank O'Bannon, both Democrats, supported extending Interstate 69, as does Republican Governor Mitch Daniels. Many in the state legislature also support the interstate. If opposition was truly as high as Earth First claims it to be, why has there not been some kind of backlash from the voters?

There is no question that a significant number of people oppose a new-terrain I-69, but there are also many who favor it. I-69 opponents would do well to focus on real numbers and not fantasies, so that their arguments can be taken seriously. However, considering that the group pushing the 94% fantasy is closely tied to eco-terrorism, credibility does not appear to be one of their major concerns.