What did the Sacred Heart poll tell us about public opinion on tolls?

A poll the Sacred Heart University Institute for Public Policy released last month showed that only 34.7 percent of 1,004 Connecticut residents surveyed support "implementing electronic tolling on major highways in CT," while 59 percent are opposed.

Where things get more ambiguous is in the responses to a follow-up question: "In 2018, Connecticut voters passed a referendum that ensured transportation funds are put in a 'lockbox' and only spent on transportation needs. If it could be ensured that if Connecticut implements tolls, these funds would go into the transportation lockbox guaranteeing that they would only be spent on roads, bridges, and highways; would you be more or less likely to support 'etolling' in Connecticut?"

The responses showed that 36.2 percent were more likely, 12.5 percent were less likely, 7 percent didn't know, 29.2 percent said there would be no change but they remain likely to oppose, and 15.1 percent said no change but remain likely to support.

Adding together the 36.2 percent and 15.1 percent figures, Colleen Flanagan Johnson, senior adviser to Gov. Ned Lamont, said in an email to reporters last month: "The majority of Connecticut residents — over 50 percent — likely support tolling when they learn that the funds generated will be subject to protections, such as the state transportation lockbox, as approved by Connecticut voters."

In a follow-up phone call with The Day last week, Johnson said she thinks being more likely to support tolls is the same as likely supporting it.

Citing the Sacred Heart poll, Johnson repeatedly tweeted a graphic to news outlets last month reading: "More than 50% of residents support tolling when they learn that the funds generated will be protected by the Transportation Lockbox, as well as federal law."

How does GreatBlue Research, the Glastonbury-based firm that conducted the poll for Sacred Heart, feel about this interpretation?

"I believe that our poll simply says more than 50% of residents are more likely to support tolling should the funds go into the transportation lockbox, not that they would definitely support tolls outright," said Seamus McNamee, senior director of research, in an email. "The price, location, and intervals of tolls all may be mitigating factors of that support; which we did not poll."

In a follow-up phone call, McNamee also noted the question didn't mention federal law.

He said the question of how much more likely someone would be to support the tolls, given the lockbox, is "something we could probably run." McNamee said the more-or-less-likely framing was used because when the question was crafted in February, "we didn't want to presuppose that they were definitely going to be in the lockbox and go to nothing else."

A follow-up to the lockbox question asked respondents to explain why. McNamee provided The Day with the frequency of responses spread among 29 reasons, though this didn't show how each person answered the question.

The most common reason, among 339 people, was that they support e-tolls to maintain or update infrastructure only, and that there are poor road conditions now. Another 114 people said they don't trust the state to use the money as intended.

In response to this concern, Johnson said the governor's team is working with legislators to host town halls on tolls and talking to chambers of commerce across the state.

Citing the Business Council of Fairfield County, Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President Tony Sheridan, and Charter Communications, Johnson said there is a "broad coalition of support from labor leaders, from business leaders."

Other than those who were uncertain or didn't answer, the next most common responses to the "why" question were not wanting to pay for tolls/not believing in them (94 people), taxes should pay for all infrastructure costs/residents are taxed too much already (74 people), and the financial burden on Connecticut residents (61 people).

While the poll asked respondents for their gender, age, ethnicity, income and more, it didn't ask about political party registration or affiliation.

e.moser@theday.com

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