UPDATED 2/11 12 a.m.

Like many of you, I woke up Wednesday morning to the news that a new poll shows Oahu residents overwhelmingly support the Envision Laie project in Koolau Loa.

Among other findings, the poll said that two-thirds of residents believe “a moderate amount of growth in the Koolau Loa district is necessary for the communities in the region to be vibrant and sustainable.”

Reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s story, I was left with one glaring question: Who paid for the poll?

In the fourth paragraph, the story says the survey was “conducted by Honolulu-based Ward Research Inc. and the Washington, D.C., market research firm Heart + Mind Strategies.” The next paragraph says Hawaii Reserves — the company that manages property for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — plans to use the survey results to convince government officials the project should move forward.

What’s left unsaid is that Hawaii Reserves paid for the poll and wrote the questions.

Ward Research President Becki Ward told this reporter Wednesday that her client was Heart + Mind Strategies, which in turn had Envision Laie as its client.

When a party with a vested interest pays for a poll, it can throw the result in doubt. But Ward said the Koolau Loa poll was above board.

The company employs “random digit dialing” to come up with its phone participants, she said. That method was combined with an online survey. Detailed poll method results (below) show that 400 respondents were reached over the phone, while 432 participated online.

Ward said the Internet results are legitimate because of the way Ward Research pulls together its online panels. Thousands of people sign up for surveys after clicking on banner advertisements or otherwise stumbling on HawaiiPanel.com. Of those, only a small percentage are randomly contacted via e-mail to participate in any given poll.

“Being in the panel doesn’t ensure that you’ll receive the link to do the survey,” Ward said, so “there’s no infiltration by any organization into our recruiting methods.”

Opponents of the development have complained that their voices have been drowned out at community meetings held by the developer. On Dec. 7 — the day before the poll began — proponents in blue shirts packed Kahuku High School’s cafeteria for a public meeting. The survey was conducted between Dec. 8 and Dec. 17, 2010.

Asked if she believes the poll results are a fair representation of public opinion, Ward said: “I certainly do because I know how we collected the data. And I wouldn’t be comfortable with our name going out associated with it if it’s not.”

However, Ward said her company merely conducted the poll and collected the data. She said questions about the poll’s design should go to her clients.

Heart + Mind Stratgies appears to be a reputable pollster. The list of clients includes Microsoft, the National Cancer Institute, the American Automobile Association and others. A message left at the company’s Virginia headquarters after East Coast business hours Wednesday was not immediately returned.

A summary of the results was provided to media with a press release Wednesday morning:

Civil Beat requested, and was given, more details about how the poll was conducted:

The most interesting question — the one that yields the two-thirds stat at the top of this article — gives respondents a choice between these two options:

Kalama believes a moderate amount of growth in the Ko‘olau Loa district is necessary for the communities in the region to be vibrant and sustainable. If a community stops growing it begins to stagnate and die.

Keawe believes it is best if there is no growth in the Koolau Loa district because that is the only way to preserve the rural feeling of the area. If the communities grow at all, they will lose their small town feel.

Those that indicate Keawe’s opinion is closest to their own are labeled “no growth” while those who say they they’re closer to Kalama’s stance are labeled “moderate growth.” In the next question, 70 percent of Koolau Loa residents indicate that the saying “Keep the country, country” means “‘no’ to any growth that attracts wealthy
new home buyers into the area or more tourists but ‘yes’ to growth that improves the quality of life for the families that live here.”

Later in the survey, respondents are asked if they support aspects of the Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan.UPDATE Here’s the wording of one strategy that 62 percent of Koolau Loa residents said they support:

Currently 95.6% of all the land in the Koolau Loa district is set aside for preservation and agriculture. The new plan continues to preserve 94.1% of all the land, but dedicates 1.5% of the land for such uses as new affordable housing, some business and growth of BYU-Hawaii.

Overall, the survey seems designed to elicit support from respondents. What do you think about the poll and the proposed development in Koolau Loa?

UPDATE: This sentence originally said respondents were asked if they support aspects of the Envision Laie project. The survey specifies the Koolau Loa Sustainable Communities Plan, not the Envision Laie project.

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