THE STUMP MAY 11, 2012
Not long ago, I argued that Democratic candidates ought to be trying to make transportation infrastructure an issue in areas where voters care about such things and where Republican anti-spending dogma was undermining projects, such as New Jersey, where Chris Christie rejected the new tunnel under the Hudson River. I noted approvingly that Tim Kaine was making an issue of his support for completing the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport, which is being threatened by Republican opposition in Virginia.
Well, along comes the Washington Post today with a big poll that, on its face, makes my argument look very weak. The headline on the story: "Silver Line to Dulles not important to most Virginians, Post poll finds." Oh dear, I thought for the first second -- maybe it's true what the political consultants say, voters really just don't give a damn about this sort of stuff. But then in the next second I thought, wait -- "Virginians?" Like, Virginians from all of Virginia? From Newport News and Richmond and Danville? Well, of course they don't think Dulles Rail is important -- they live far away from it and won't be using it. So I looked more closely at the article and there in the 10th and 11th graph, it mentioned this:
Statewide, 32 percent of those surveyed describe the Silver Line extension as extremely or very important, compared with 64 percent who say it is not. In the Washington suburbs, including Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria, 67 percent say the project is important, with 41 percent calling it extremely important. But in the remaining parts of the state it’s 25 percent.
So there you have it. In the very populous part of the state where people know have to fight traffic to drive to the airport and Tysons Corner, most people care a lot about the project. In the far reaches of the rest of the state, not so much. Which is exactly why the state decided to back the project back in the Kaine days -- because it was of importance to the corner of the state that has been growing the fastest and subsidizing the rest of the state with its booming tax revenues. That's how these projects usually happen -- they matter to one part of the state and less to the other, but through the democratic process, revenues are allocated hither and yon. (It's also why the Northern Virginia counties are picking up a lot of the tab on their own, over and beyond the state contribution.) So I'll stick with I said before: Tim Kaine can surely win some votes by making the case for Dulles Rail. Yes, those votes will come in Northern Virginia, not from Norfolk. But they're still, you know, votes!
One last thing about the poll: it asked voters how important they considered the project -- "Extremely," "very important," "somewhat" or "not at all." Now, if someone asks you whether you think something is important, and you say it's "somewhat" important, aren't you implying a moderately positive valuation? Not as reported here. In this case, the people answering "somewhat" fell under the "negative" column, and into the "large majority of Virginians [who] do not consider the $3 billion second phase of the Silver Line project a priority." Really, guys?
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