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Recent poll: Majority of Washington voters oppose coal-by-rail


COAL TRAINS have sparked controversy in the Columbia River Gorge. According to an October survey by a Los Angeles research group, a majority of Washington residents oppose coal shipments running through the state’s rail lines.

Photo courtesy of KingCounty.gov
COAL TRAINS have sparked controversy in the Columbia River Gorge. According to an October survey by a Los Angeles research group, a majority of Washington residents oppose coal shipments running through the state’s rail lines.



Polling results released Oct. 9 from a September telephone survey of 1,200 Washington citizens found that “a strong and growing majority of voters in Washington oppose proposals to ship coal through Washington along rail lines for the purposes of export to Asia.”

The survey was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3), of Los Angeles/Oakland, to assess Washington voters’ opinions on the shipping and exporting of coal through the state.

From Sept. 15-20, FM3 completed 1,200 telephone surveys (on landlines and cell phones) with randomly selected voters likely to participate in the November 2016 General Election. The margin of sampling error is +/-2.8%.

Among the survey’s findings are:

n 40 percent of respondents expressed strong opposition, and 16 percent were somewhat opposed to shipping coal in rail cars through the state, after hearing a brief description of the concept.

“Coal companies propose to ship millions of tons of coal per year through Washington along the Columbia River and through Puget Sound on trains and tankers to Asia, where the coal would be burned in coal-fired power plants. The coal trains would have uncovered cars. Would you support or oppose transporting coal through Washington to export to Asia?”

n 17 percent of respondents said they strongly support coal-by-rail shipments headed for export, and 19 percent said they somewhat support the proposal. Eight percent of those surveyed were undecided.

Researchers David Metz and Curtis Below of FM3 noted in an Oct. 9 press release that opposition to coal-by-rail “is broad-based, with majorities of diverse electoral subgroups expressing opposition: Democrats and independents; liberals and moderates; voters ages 18-49 and 50 and over; voters of all income levels; voters from union households and voters from non-union households; and both voters who volunteer or donate to environmental organizations and voters who do not.”

The researchers also pointed out that opposition to coal shipments and exports has grown steadily since the summer of 2012.

In July 2012, Metz and Below wrote, “Washington voters were far more divided on whether they supported or opposed shipping and exporting coal through the state. However, opposition has notably increased in the past several years: in the summer of 2013 a slim majority (51 percent) opposed coal export, but now opponents outnumber supporters by a 20-point margin.”

Researchers lumped those who somewhat and strongly oppose shipping and exporting coal into a single opposition category to arrive at the 56 percent majority. They did the same with supporting numbers to get to a 36 percent minority.

Survey results from July 2012 revealed 42 percent supported shipping and exporting coal, versus 38 percent opposed, and 20 percent undecided.

By August 2013, attitudes toward shipping and exporting coal had shifted, with 51 percent of survey respondents stating opposition to 38 percent expressing support, and 12 percent undecided.

“Taken together, these survey results show a dramatic shift in Washington voter opinion against proposals to ship coal on rail lines through Washington for the purpose of export to Asia,” Metz and Below wrote. “A majority of voters now opposes this proposal — with two in five offering ‘strong’ opposition — and with solid opposition coming from the ideological center of the electorate.”



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