The Topline: Where is Charlie on the M(B)TA?

Note: Our poll for WBUR also included an update on support for the Boston Olympics, which will be out tomorrow on Morning Edition. Where is Charlie on the M(B)TA?

Governor Charlie Baker could hardly have imagined his first months in office would be consumed by the epic failure of the MBTA this winter. Transportation did not feature prominently in the campaign for governor on either side, save for some discussion of the ballot item on gas tax indexing. Baker did not even mention the issue in his inaugural address. But the creaky system ground to a halt under the weight of some 90 inches of snow.

Baker said he's learned in his first month on the job that "Mother Nature makes the rules." That would include, it seems, the political agenda. Although voters do not blame Governor Baker for the T's problems, they are looking to him to fix it, according to our latest poll for WBUR. Among voters inside Route 128, 81 percent think solving the problem should be a major priority for his administration. That figure puts the T, normally a lower-tier issue, up at the same level as perennial top concerns like the economy, education and health care.

Voters haven't judged Baker too harshly so far; his favorable rating is little changed from last month, and few assign him blame for the T's problems. This could change. Voters have awoken to the terrible condition of the T, with 78 percent now saying the system is in poor or fair condition. That's a large increase from just last month. With this amount of upheaval and passion around, the T is now an issue that is politically unsafe to ignore.

The T's well-documented financial woes put Baker in a difficult position. He promised not to raise taxes during the campaign, and voters in this poll are split on the need for more revenue. But to deal with the problems at the T, most transportation experts, including conservatives and business leaders, think the system needs more money, or at least relief from some of the debt load that consumes a large part of its budget. Both the Governor and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have said they want to understand what went wrong before committing more money. (They can start here. And here. And don't forget this.)

Voters are less equivocal about the root causes of the T's problems. Two-thirds think the current failure is due to the T's aging equipment; less than a fifth (17 percent) blame bad management during the storm. And when asked who is most responsible, more than half point to the lawmakers who have controlled T's purse strings: the legislature (27 percent) and past governors (25 percent).

Voters want action, but they are less clear about what should be done. They are split over the root causes of the T's multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog. They are also divided as to whether the T should halt expansion to focus on fixing the core system, or balance both. On the question of paying more in taxes and fees to fix the T, half are in favor and half opposed. We didn't go too deep on this question in this regional poll, since new revenues would be a statewide issue. Our past work suggests the details of revenue proposals for transportation can make a big difference in support levels.

With the T announcing this week it could be 30 days before it is running a normal level of service, the issue is not going away anytime soon. Prolonged exposure could raise the political stakes. Baker won the corner office in large part by tamping down Democratic margins in Boston and other cities. How he handles the T will have a lasting impact on the city, and will affect the day-to-day life of voters all across the region.



2016 Primaries

Way too much has been written about a poll which doesn't show Elizabeth Warren leading Hillary Clinton in key primary states, despite the hype. Find rebuttals everywhere, like here, here, and here.

Jonathan Bernstein (brother of #mapoli reporter/instigator David) notes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seems to be surging in Republican primary polls. But Bernstein cautions that it's very early to make much of it.

At the same time as Walker is rising, Chris Christie is tapering off, and now trails Hillary Clinton by 23 in his home state of New Jersey, write the good folks of HuffPollster.

All in all, the GOP nomination process is wide open, finds NBC.


It's the economy, stupid...

In the wake of a strong monthly jobs report, a new Associated Press poll finds Americans more optimistic about the economy -- and, as a result, about President Obama.

HuffPost/YouGov finds a majority of Americans in favor of paid sick and parental leave. But Republicans are skeptical of paid leave for Dads.

At The UpShot, Nate Cohn notes that issues like family leave comprise the core of an emerging Democratic policy agenda focused on parents.

Quinnipiac finds majorities in battleground states approve of raising taxes on the wealthy to reduce taxes on the middle class. Pew looks at long-term trends in income and the size of middle class that shed some light on this preference.

Closer to home, Evan Horowitz looks at economic growth in Massachusetts and finds that the top 1 percent of earners have reaped all the gains, while the bottom 99 percent has actually fallen behind.


... Except when it's not

Ninety percent of Massachusetts residents think accused Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is or is probably guilty, according to a poll commissioned by The Boston Globe opinion page.

FiveThirtyEight analyzes a new report that suggests incarcerating criminals at the level the U.S. is currently doing has no effect on crime.

Liberals think conservatives are more anti-vaccine than they are, while conservatives think the same of liberals, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll.

Americans think Speaker Boehner's inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to address Congress without the President's permission was inappropriate.

Fifty-eight percent disapprove of President Obama's handling of ISIS, according to a CNN/ORC poll.

CNN also found that a majority would blame Congressional Republicans if the Department of Homeland Security were to shut down because of the dispute over President Obama's executive order on immigration.


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Catch Me If You Can: Data Fabrication in Survey Research

Let's say you're conducting a face-to-face public opinion survey, where interviewers have to go door-to-door talking to people. How do you make sure that those interviewers are actually going into the field, sometimes into war zones, and talking to actual humans?

New research, published and yet-to-be published, has added to a body of work suggesting this issue, called data fabrication, is a real problem for the survey industry. It's not a new problem -- fabrication has been a concern for as long as surveys have been done -- but some of the ways fabrication is happening now are a bit different than what has been seen before.

Developing countries are a particular area of concern, both because of the volume and importance of the research there and the challenge of ensuring high quality in those environments. Technologies to track and verify interviewers in first-world situations -- GPS, audio recording and so forth -- can be impractical in more dangerous, less developed places. Compounding the problem is that the harder the data is to collect, the greater the temptation to make it up, according to other recent research.

Last Friday, leading survey researchers gathered at Harvard University to hear speakers from the U.S. State Department, the Arab Barometer, RTI International, NORC, and Harvard. The speakers outlined instances of fabrication issues in a number of countries, in surveys spanning the last ten years. They also talked about the steps and methods their organizations are exploring to detect and prevent future problems. This is a problem the survey industry is just beginning to grapple with; expect much more to come.

In the meantime, the slides from the event are now posted. The video replay will be available soon. This event was part of a series, much of which will be written up for the Statistical Journal of the International Association of Official Statistics. Hence the #NerdAlert tearline.