Referendum’s misleading results


To the Editor:

A referendum asking only whether one is for or against the roundabout cannot provide a reliable gauge regarding the project and, more importantly, will produce misleading information.

In a referendum, people tend to vote based on what they may have read in the newspapers, or heard from acquaintances, many of whom have formed opinions based on little factual information. Reports in the media often feature newsmaking controversy and criticisms, rather than facts like comparative accident rates. Among acquaintances, vocal critics are much more liable to pass on their views than are project supporters.

A referendum, therefore, is almost always biased toward negative responses.

For the roundabout, it is very unlikely that most respondents will have a good understanding of the differences among alternative improvements, such as the relative costs, appearances, and accident potential. Nor are they likely to understand that all proposed improvements will have formalized bus stops with sidewalks, and will have similar impacts at the ends of Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road.

In addition, a yes-no referendum on the roundabout has another major problem. What does a “no” response mean?

• Does it mean that we do not need to improve the intersection, and we can live with present and future backups?

• Does it mean that we do not need to improve the intersection at this time, but we should do something in the future when the backups get severe?

• Does it mean that we need to do something now, but there are better solutions than the roundabout?

• If the respondent meant that the intersection needs to be improved, now or in the future, what alternative is preferred to the roundabout?

To make these judgments the respondents need to be provided with enough information to understand the consequences of their decisions. Without this information, it is not possible to respond reasonably to the question “Are you for or against the roundabout?”

Dan Greenbaum