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Expert says FASTC poll was legitimate 
Research groups says 403 people interviewed came from each area of Queen Anne's County

By STEVE NERY Star Democrat News Editor
Friday, January 29, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 2:50 pm, Wed Jan 27, 2010. 

RUTHSBURG  Each sector of Queen Anne's County had more people respond favorably than negatively to the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center proposed for Ruthsburg, according to a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates.

The poll was commissioned by the Eastern Shore Leadership Council, a recently formed group of area business and community leaders that supports job growth and economic sustainability in the area. Opponents of FASTC have questioned the poll since its results were reported in The Star Democrat Jan. 20. The poll was conducted Jan. 16 and 17, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Melissa Deckman, an associate professor of political science at Washington College in Chestertown, called the poll legitimate. She has been creating and studying political polls professionally for more than a decade, and said the style of questions was standard and that the pollsters are well-established.

In looking at the poll's legitimacy, Deckman pointed to a section where the poll gave respondents both positive and negative arguments about the project. 

She noted how the arguments were rotated when asked by pollsters  in other words, the pollsters alternated the order of the arguments, giving the positive ones first to some and the negative ones first to others  thereby intentionally trying not to bias voters' responses one way or another.

In looking at the poll as a whole, she gathered that more likely voters are in favor of the project than opposed to it, citing both that more people were favorable to the project than unfavorable and that more people rated the positive arguments in the poll more convincing than they did the negative arguments.

But she also said that many of the responses in the poll indicate that likely voters are uninformed about the project, particularly how the county government and federal officials are involved with it. She pointed to the fact that 41 percent and 36 percent of respondents were not sure how to rate the job of the county commissioners or the federal government in the process, respectively.

"There's still a lot of people who haven't made up their mind yet, and they don't really know enough about the process," Deckman said. "There's still a lot of soft response."

Fred Yang of the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group (Hart Research's political division) said the poll was "geographically representative of Queen Anne's County." A proportionate number of registered voters were taken from each area of the county, and the age groups also were proportionate to the county's population, Yang said.

The county was broken down into four quadrants, Yang said. In northern Queen Anne's County, 38 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of the project compared to 32 percent unfavorable; in greater Centreville, 52 percent had a favorable opinion while 32 percent had an unfavorable one; near the U.S. Route 50/state Route 301 split, 49 percent responded favorably while 22 percent responded unfavorably; and on Kent Island, those figured were 52 percent and 21 percent.

After being given both positive and negative information about the proposal (half of those polled were given positive statements and half were given negative), the difference in those numbers increased even more  60 percent favorable to 27 percent unfavorable countywide.

"This is a pretty good sample size for an area of that size," Yang said of the 403 people interviewed. For elections, the polling group typically conducts 400 detailed interviews for entire Congressional districts, which have far more registered voters than Queen Anne's County.

"It's a scientific research method," Yang said, which is why polls can be accurate despite only actually including a small sampling of voters affected.

Yang said after media stories he'd seen about the proposal, he was a bit surprised with the results, though it's typical for the majority of people not to have the time or the inclination to get involved in these matters.

Of the voters interviewed, 49 percent were registered Republicans, 35 percent were Democrats and 16 percent were registered with other parties. Fifty-six percent were satisfied with the state of the county today, and 42 percent were dissatisfied. Fifteen percent said the quality of life has gotten better in recent years, 28 percent said it has gotten worse and 55 percent said it has remained about the same.

Most of those polled  84 percent  had heard of the proposal. Of those, 40 percent paid close attention to the issue, 41 percent paid some attention and 19 percent paid just a little attention. Based on what they already knew, 49 percent had a favorable opinion on the proposal while 26 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

People were then read six common arguments for and against the project, and asked to rate them. Respondents found the arguments in favor of the project more convincing than those against it. After hearing all the arguments for and against the training center, 60 percent of people had favorable impressions of the project compared to 27 percent unfavorable.

In all, the poll had 13 questions (though some had multiple parts), as well as five factual questions for statistical purposes only.

Only 11 percent of respondents had lived in Queen Anne's County less than five years, while 68 percent had lived in the county for more than 10 years.

The proposed center, which would be located on 2,050 acres near state Routes 304 and 481, would condense training currently taught in 19 different facilities across the nation into a single facility, providing both "hard skills" and "soft skills" training. The hard skills training would include indoor 

and outdoor firing ranges, an explosives range, weapons and explosives storage, three driving tracks and several mock urban environments. Classrooms, simulation labs, administrative offices and a fitness center would comprise the "soft skills" portion.

The General Services Administration plans to hold new public hearings on the proposed FASTC at Queen Anne's County High School Auditorium in Centreville from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10. The forums will feature a brief public presentation followed by an opportunity for the community to ask questions.

There also is to be a workshop Saturday, Feb 6, also at Queen Anne's County High School from 1 to 3 p.m. for citizens who would like to come to hear details about the project and address their concerns in a smaller group format. GSA spokesman Chris Hoagland said details for the workshop are still being worked out.

Staff Writer Bobby McMahon contributed to this report.

Related News Item:  Survey finds majority of QA residents favor FASTC 
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