Bill White Gets One Wrong

Bill White writes:

I lumped the mayors of Allentown and Bethlehem together in Thursday’s column, suggesting that both were trying to convince their residents to accept bold proposals that don’t seem to be particularly popular. I ended up focusing on Mayor John Callahan’s plan for converting Bethlehem to a single trash hauler, and I’ll be writing more about Tuesday night’s Bethlehem City Council meeting in my column Saturday.

Actually there’s no evidence for the claim that Bethlehem’s single trash hauler proposal is unpopular. The best available evidence says a clear majority supports the plan, and the most generous estimate puts the opposition no higher than 36%:

I’d expect a paid columnist like Bill to know better than to make the same error as innumerate bloggers who think Eric Evans’ gut has better accuracy than a poll with an impressively large sample size.

If you want to argue something is unpopular, you need to show that it’s unpopular, not gesture at random anecdotes.


  1. Just because you don’t like evidence doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    People that care enough to show up at a meeting are among the strongest out there. And again, there is no one leading this charge on your side. No one shows up at meetings, no one writes letters.

    Only a lonely policy wonk in a basement in NYC somewhere, trying to tell us yokels what do to.

    Maybe you should try writing about some other town that’s more receptive to your brand of control?

    • Who cares about the meetings? Seriously. There were times that Mitt Romney got enormous, enthusiastic crowds, and the President got subdued crowds. Truth here- polling is always right. The only way polling is wrong is if you mess with the sample, like Rasmussen, to reflect an electorate you want. There is literally zero real evidence of this being unpopular.

      • Rich this is getting a ton of attention in the media and the blogs. It’s clear to all, looking at any source, that there is active opposition to this plan. You have council people saying that people are contacting them registering opposition as well.

        With all that, there is no one standing up for it except Callahan, and he’s only in it for the revenue to the city.

        All you have on the support side is a poorly worded survey whose questions can be interpreted in any manner of ways. Show me a survey that the Mayor’s plan is popular and then you have a point.

        Now I don’t have a dog in this fight, and on the merits it’s probably a good idea. But I am absolutely against citizens getting something crammed down their throats when they don’t want it.

        • Richard Nixon was one of the most brilliant politicians of the last century. What was his constituency? “Silent Majority.” Most people won’t go to meetings, or rallies, or call someone. This is why we poll.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          John, if I got 20% of Bethlehem residents making calls to politicians to oppose the plan, and nobody made any calls in support, that would sound to politicians like a whole lot of people hated this plan. It would sound like people were overwhelmingly against it. But that would still only be 20% of the residents.

          The best case you can make is that we don’t/can’t know for sure what the people want, since you have no credible estimate of the size of the opposition. But if you want to argue that we can’t know, then the implication should be that politicians should vote based on the plan’s merits, not their sense of how popular it is.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I don’t like evidence? I’m citing the only evidence there is. Where is your evidence? The votes of people who show up to meetings count as much as people who don’t. That doesn’t mean anything.

  2. Jon, what is a politicians’ #1 objective? Please don’t give me the policy class answer, give me the real one.

    Real simple – a politician’s #1 objective is to get re-elected.

    If you have known opposition to a move, and no known support, 99% of all politicians will not buck the opposition unless it’s life/death, which this is not.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      But it’s not true that there’s no known support. It’s 56% in support. There aren’t enough opponents to jeopardize anyone’s reelection.

  3. That’s not support FOR THIS PLAN. That’s an answer to a generic survey question that could be interpreted many ways.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      People know what this debate is about and what the trade-offs are. Anybody who was really against it would’ve answered No, even with the qualifier statement attached.

  4. There are numerous residents on twitter who are in favor of single hauler, and they wrote emails in support of it. People also spoke in favor of it at the meeting.

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