A better opinion poll provides a better idea of move sentiment

Empire editorial

Posted: Sunday, June 09, 2002

One recent poll suggests we can hang a "For rent" sign on the Capitol because 54 percent of the Alaskans contacted think moving legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or Anchorage is the thing to do.

Another recent poll says 65 percent of Alaskans statewide would vote against moving legislative sessions outside Juneau.

Which poll are we to believe?

No one has to poll those of us who live in Juneau to know how we feel about moving sessions out of the capital. We are virtually unanimous in our belief that the capital is the capital, and that legislative sessions should take place in the capital and in the Capitol - not in some vacant commercial space in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or elsewhere up north.

But we also know that Southeast Alaska is not the state's population center. The chilling reality is that the folks up around Anchorage probably have the numbers to toss history into the trash can and to slam the Southeast economy if they decide the Legislature should meet in their back yard.

But at what cost? That question brings us back to the polls.

The poll conducted in mid-May by Dittman Research Corp. of Anchorage seemed to invite a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of voters by neglecting to mention that there is a cost associated with holding legislative sessions outside Juneau and that pinpointing the cost is not part of the latest ballot initiative.

How can an opinion poll about a legislative move be credible if it asks people if they'd like to have legislative sessions in the state's population center but fails to mention the costs? Pollster Dave Dittman said he did not see the sentence regarding cost when he checked a Web site about the ballot language.

Didn't see it? Go to the state Division of Elections Web site. The cost sentence is the third sentence of a short paragraph about the initiative and is posted as follows:

Initiative Moving Location of Legislative Sessions

This bill would move all sessions of the state legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough. If facilities fit for these sessions cannot be found in that borough, sessions would be held in Anchorage until facilities are available in the Mat-Su Borough. The bill would repeal the requirements that before the state can spend money to move the legislature, the voters must know the total costs as determined by a commission, and approve a bond issue for all bondable costs of the move.

How hard can that be to miss?

Forgive us for wondering if the failure to mention the repeal of voters' right to know costs seems like a way to influence a poll toward a particular outcome.

Voters should be told that the bill will repeal their right to know the costs of the move. The Dittman poll did not tell them.

On Friday in Anchorage the results of another poll were released.

In the FRANK Committee poll, registered voters were told that a move of legislative sessions to the Mat-Su Borough has been proposed and that the ballot initiative would repeal the existing law requiring a commission to study the costs of the move and the requirement of a second vote to approve the costs of the move.

Sixty-five percent of informed, registered voters responded by saying they would reject the legislative-move initiative.

Ultimately this battle is not over the credibility of opinion polls. It is about providing all the information voters need to make an informed decision. The FRANK Committee poll may ease the anxiety of those of us living in Juneau, but we must continue to do everything we can to inform ourselves, our neighbors and our fellow Alaskans about the costs and the practical consequences of the proposed relocation of legislative sessions.

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