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Staying Positive: Responding to Transit Critics Managing the Message in a Transit Election Environment Peter J. Haas, Ph.D. General context of transit elections. The public generally wants transit improvements Many campaigns have little or organized, funded opposition

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Staying Positive: Responding to Transit Critics Managing the Message in a Transit Election EnvironmentPeter J. Haas, Ph.D.

general context of transit elections
General context of transit elections
  • The public generally wants transit improvements
  • Many campaigns have little or organized, funded opposition
  • Most campaigns succeed (despite some high-profile losses).
  • Opposition arguments tend to be predictable and repetitive
  • Implication: manage message with other factors in mind (and not in isolation)
key characteristics of a transit election environment
Key characteristics of a transit election environment
  • Simultaneous interplay of a “cloud” of possibly critical factors
  • The media message/narrative (and that of opponents) may be important, but may also be noise
  • Other factors include: perceived need for project; positive transit system image; fundraising; use of experienced consultant; type of election, existence of organized opposition.
  • It is likely that managing the message interacts with some or all of these factors
  • Implication: manage message being mindful of other factors
managing agency system perception
Managing Agency/System Perception
  • Research suggests that poor public perceptions of the efficiency or quality of public transit can affect outcomes
  • If there are known issues, address them publically and systemically prior to announcing campaign
  • Emphasize positive outcomes, reports, etc.
  • Educate on positives of system (independent of campaign)
  • Avoid overt conflict over the transportation proposal (routes, modes, etc.)
  • Create a “Blue Ribbon” or citizen’s review panel with oversight function
managing organized opposition
Managing Organized Opposition
  • Research suggests an organized opposition is more likely to defeat a transit initiative; however: many elections lack organized opposition
  • If no organized opposition exists, be careful of cultivating grassroots opposition by legitimizing marginal opponents; focus on positives
  • If opposition is organized, anticipate message, which tends to be repetitive; prepare counter arguments
  • Create an on-line “War Room” site that addresses ad hoc arguments
  • If opposition uses hired guns, use that against them
  • Work with existing grass roots supporter groups and try avoid alienating key constituents
  • Create a “Blue Ribbon” or citizen’s review panel with oversight function
managing different types of election
Managing different types of election
  • Research suggests that large turnout, “high-stimulus” elections are more likely to be successful
  • Off-year and “special elections” may be more difficult
  • Given a high-turnout election: can dovetail with existing efforts to maximize turnout, must focus on raising awareness of initiative and targeting likely voters
  • Given a low-turnout election: can focus effort on turning-out likely voters, avoid legitimizing opposition
managing use of multiple media
Managing use of multiple media
  • Research suggests that successful campaigns use a strategic combination of mass media (Radio/TV/newspaper) and Direct Mail that is focused on key voting groups.
  • Key is identify what sticks – what resonates – and what’s relevant to voters (and specific types of voters)
  • Avoid overspending on mass media campaigns that fail to address interests and concerns of specific voters
  • Identify likely voters, swing voters, tailor message to specific neighborhoods with direct mail
  • Social media…
and social media
…and social media
  • Social media: can be used to quickly determine which issues resonate with which kinds of voters (can target groups)
  • Transparent: can quickly determine which kinds of messages are gaining traction – can also gain traction with conventional media
  • Enablesa means of becoming source of information, independent of media
  • Must have established following and/or access to ancillary groups (bicycle coalition, environmental group, etc.)
  • Can address counter-messages directly in social media and/or bring to conventional media if issue is developing
in summary
In summary
  • “The message” occurs in a complex, interactive environment
  • There is no magic bullet for shaping pro or against con arguments
  • Key conditions include: perception of transportation agency, type of opposition, use of media.
  • Social media pose a relatively efficient way to test and pose different approaches to messages for for different kinds of audiences
for more information
For more information…
      • Peter J. Haas, Education Director, Mineta Transportation Institute
      • Email:
      • Phone: (408) 924 – 5691

Visit our web site at:

Search for “Transportation Finance” research or go to directly to:

  • Regarding use of social media: Matt Raymond, President/CEO atCeltis Ventures, LLC
      • Email: