Highway Trust Fund Language and Messaging

Report Transportation

Highway Trust Fund Language and Messaging

June 11, 2015 2 min read Download Report

Authors: Mark Schreiber and Elizabeth Fender

Strong Agreement with Messages on Shifting Transportation Authority to States

Recent research conducted under the American Perceptions Initiative found that messages focusing on shifting funding and decision-making towards the states received a very high level of support, with nearly 8 in 10 Americans agreeing with each (74%-81% somewhat/strongly agree):

  • Expecting politicians in Washington to impartially decide which roads and bridges to fund in the states is absurd. It’s time to end the practice of sending hard-earned taxpayer dollars to Washington, only to be squabbled over by lobbyists and spent on pet projects while our roads and bridges crumble. State leaders are best situated to know the transportation needs of their citizens.—81%
  • When bureaucrats in Washington are in charge of our local roads and bridges, it makes it hard for the best work to be done by the right people. The federal government tacks on extra rules and regulations that only insiders can navigate when bidding for jobs. We want the companies doing the best work at the best rate working on our transportation systems, not the ones most experienced at navigating federal red tape.—80%
  • It’s time to put states back in the driver’s seat. Funding and decision-making should be handled by the people who drive on the streets, sit in the traffic, and cross the bridges affected by transportation spending, not bureaucrats in Washington.—79%

Messages Increase Support for Scaling Back from 3:2 to 3:1

When first asked, more Americans thought the federal government should “scale back the Highway Trust Fund and hand over transportation funding and decision-making authority to the states” (45%) rather than fully fund it by increasing gas and other transportation-related taxes or pulling from the general fund (30%), given the funding shortfalls it has encountered. Reading the messages increased the proportion who think Congress should scale back the Fund by 14 points. In fact, the majority supported handing over funding and authority to the states after reading them (59%).

Funding Implications Change Theoretical Support to Practical Opposition

A slight majority initially placed high importance on the Highway Trust Fund—54% think it is crucial while 46% think it is broken and outdated. The results indicate that despite these views, Americans are less supportive of the Highway Trust Fund when faced with the practical implications around funding it.

Messaging Tips

  • Keep terms forward-looking—“hand over” won more support than “hand back”.
  • Be sensitive to cost—messages on raising the federal tax lower support for full funding and those implying state tax increases show a drop off in agreement.
  • Utilize cronyism messages—the concern that those far away in Washington are benefitting at the expense of taxpayers resonated.
  • Focus on day-to-day effects—top messages referenced roads, bridges, and traffic.

Source: Online survey using a national representative sample of 1,024 U.S. voters conducted June 3, 2015 with a margin of error of ±3.1%.

Authors

Mark Schreiber

Director, Strategic Marketing

Elizabeth Fender
Elizabeth Fender

Director, Center on Public Opinion