Who is behind anonymous phone survey asking about Molokai Ranch, wind turbines and the undersea cable?
Can anyone solve this mystery?
Over the past few weeks many Molokai residents have received anonymous calls, asking for personal information and personal opinions about Molokai Ranch, about the proposed wind turbines and undersea cable, and about a variety of so-called “benefits” which might be offered. This phone poll is being conducted by Ward Research of Honolulu. But when you ask, “Who’s paying for it?” the callers say, “Sorry, we can’t tell you.”
Some of us have answered the questions; others have just hung up. But we can only guess who ordered this poll, and why.
If it’s a local group, local readers should be able to clear up the mystery.
Some survey questions relate to Molokai Ranch. Perhaps they ordered this poll. But if so, then why the anonymity? The Ranch is on island, employs local residents, and says it wants to be a good neighbor. Anonymity just sows suspicion and distorts the response.
If this was a government survey, we would have been told up front. According to some government officials, Ward Research is not one of the pollsters they use. As of last Monday, Senator English’s Office and Representative Carroll’s Office knew nothing about it, advised citizens not to participate in anonymous polls, and planned to call Ward Research for more information. Council members Mateo and Baisa were also unaware, began inquiries of their own, and asked to be kept informed. One helpful staff member from the Public Utilities Commission did call Ward and reported back that there are two surveys, one just completed and one just starting. The second concerns “consumer satisfaction with electric service,” and is statewide. But Ward Research refused to tell even the PUC who paid for the surveys! When asked about HECO (an obvious candidate for the second survey) or a cable bidder (a possible candidate for the first survey) the PUC could only say, “they are private companies, so they can do what they want.”
If the Molokai survey was ordered by a private company, such as Molokai Ranch and/or a wind developer, then we need to ask ourselves this question: Is it a good idea to let private interests snoop around, asking leading questions about public issues? And how can they possibly discuss “benefits” when no agreements have been reached and no contracts signed? In the case of bidders, it should be against the law for them to manipulate local opinion, even after a contract is signed. How much worse then, before they are hired!
It may seem innocent to ask opinions, but this poll is clearly more than that, and it clearly has big money behind it. On Molokai nearly everyone is being called, even the cell phones of “snow birds.” Questions are being asked about demographics, such as “May I speak to the man of the house?” or “Are you aged 25-49?” Some of the questions seem designed to plant specific ideas and test the reactions of different groups of people. This isn’t just polling, but targeting, a kind of surveillance where you divide the community into different target groups who can be approached in different ways. A poll like this is not just fishing for existing support, but trying to figure out everybody’s price or breaking point.
Someday soon, someone will announce the results of this poll. Will all the results be reported, or only those convenient for the buyer? Will the results include all the people who refused to answer an anonymous questioner? Of what value is the poll? None of those who responded knew who ordered it or who wrote the questions. We don’t know who or how many were called. And how can we trust the results when the buyer refuses to be identified?
A poll like this is typical of mainland-style hardball politics. It can be made to say whatever the buyer wants it to say. If the buyer wants to say that Molokai residents are divided about the industrialization of their island, then that’s what the poll will report. Those who want to ram these wind turbines down our throats, can then use the poll to say, “Well, since opinion is divided, we have to choose, so we choose windmills. Have a nice day.”
Sooner or later the secret pollster will crawl out of the bushes. But the bigger mystery is, why is opinion-poaching permitted at all? Why are private companies allowed to masquerade as public agencies, spinning discussion and cooking the books on sensitive public issues? If I put on a ski mask and hold up the corner store, I go to jail. How is it then that a corporation, wearing a similar mask, can interrogate, tempt, and divide a community without even raising eyebrows?
At the very least, these polls should be cleared with our elected officials. Instead, our officials are themselves in the dark, and are turning to us for information! Perhaps the one official whose help we need right now is our State Attorney General, whose sworn duty is to prosecute those who subject us to misrepresentation and fraud.
We are I Aloha Molokai, and we believe that public business should be conducted in public, by our elected officials. The next time an anonymous caller wants to ask you questions, we suggest that you tell them to “have a nice day.” Mahalo.
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