Rail has been among the biggest stories in Honolulu for years.

It’s covered regularly by TV stations, newspapers, radio stations and, yes, Web news outlets like Civil Beat.

The Civil Beat Poll asked voters to grade the performance of the agency responsible for the rail project, but it also asked voters about the performance of local media.

Thirty-six percent of likely voters said rail coverage has been fair. But a larger group, 44 percent said it had been biased, with 12 percent saying it was biased against the project and 32 percent saying it was biased for the project. Twenty percent of voters were unsure.

The question we asked was, “What do you think about local media coverage of the rail project? Has it generally been fair or biased?”

The automated telephone survey of 1,172 likely Oahu voters was conducted on Feb. 26 and 27. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent.1

The press is among many institutions that has seen an erosion in public confidence. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which has been tracking views of press performance since 1985, found that 77 percent of adults think that news organizations tend to favor one side, a much larger percentage than the Civil Beat poll found in response to the question about rail coverage.

Gallup reports that 60 percent of Americans perceive bias one way or the other in media reports.

The Civil Beat Poll found that young voters, between the ages of 18-29, are most likely to think that coverage has generally been fair, at 57 percent, while voters between the ages of 40-49 are least likely to think it’s been fair, at just 27 percent.

Men and women are in roughly the same ballpark, with 39 percent of men saying coverage has been fair and 34 percent of women saying the same thing. Thirty-four percent of men say coverage has been biased in favor of rail, while 13 percent say it’s been biased against rail. Thirty-one percent of women say coverage has been biased against rail, while 10 percent of women say the opposite. Far more women, 25 percent, are unsure, compared with 14 percent for men.

Belief in the general fairness of coverage seems to correlate with attitudes toward the project.

Of those who support the project, 50 percent say media coverage has been fair and 27 percent say reporting has been biased against rail. Only six percent of supporters say the media is biased in favor of the project.

More than half of opponents — 53 percent — believe the media’s been biased in favor of the project, while 2 percent believe there has been bias against the project. Thirty-one percent say coverage has been fair.

Of those who say they have no opinion or are unsure about rail, a majority say they’re unsure about media bias.

The poll results also reveal the divide between liberals and conservatives when it comes to perceptions of media bias.

Liberals are more than twice as likely as conservatives to say the media has been fair. Forty-six percent of liberals say coverage has been fair, versus just 23 percent of conservatives. That’s not only because liberals are more likely to support rail, which they do. If that were the only cause, you might expect that they would say that the coverage has been biased against rail. While fewer liberals find bias, the ones who do agree with their moderate and conservative counterparts that the bias has been in favor of the project.

Just as with other questions regarding rail, the answer didn’t vary widely based on where voters lived. Thirty-two percent of voters who live in the rail corridor2 said coverage has been fair, with 34 percent saying it has been biased in favor of the project and 13 percent saying it’s been biased against the project. Thirty-nine percent of voters who live outside the corridor said coverage has generally been fair, with 31 percent saying it’s been biased in favor and 11 percent saying it’s been biased against.

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