Infrastructure has become a hot-button issue among legislators recently, and voters do give high marks to the current state of the nation’s infrastructure—yet they acknowledge improvements to health, safety and security weigh more heavily than job creation, according to new research from strategic communications firm Brodeur Partners.
The agency recently announced the results of its new report, Making Infrastructure Relevant Again, which looks at voters’ sense of urgency toward the nation’s aging infrastructure.
“Pundits may agree that improving our nation’s infrastructure would be a perfect way for Washington to display rare bipartisanship and create jobs, but there is a huge gap between the views of experts and voters on the seriousness of the infrastructure problem,” said Jerry Johnson, a partner at Brodeur Partners and author of the study, in a news release. “One reason may be a lack of public awareness of how bad the state of our infrastructure really is and the threat that may pose to our safety and security.”
The study suggests five recommendations for those advocating efforts to address the nation’s infrastructure needs:
1. Better educate the public
American voters may not yet fathom the true degree of infrastructure decay. They generously give A and B grades to infrastructure systems to which licensed engineers give D’s. To increase awareness of dire infrastructure conditions, policy makers need to better spotlight failing dams, bridges, water systems, etc., and detail the risk to communities.
2. Rethink messaging
While the media focuses primarily on productivity and job creation as the main benefits of infrastructure improvement, there is an underplayed message in the mainstream discourse: public health and safety. Despite the inflated grades they awarded to infrastructure systems, respondents ranked health, safety and security over job creation (31 to 29 percent) as the top potential benefit of infrastructure spending.
3. Align priorities
Since infrastructure is a broad category, Brodeur investigated which infrastructure priorities American voters favored most. Respondents prioritized water, energy and transportation systems (roads and bridges) over mass transit, dams/flood control, air transportation and passenger rail (e.g., Amtrak).
4. Organize constituencies
While voters rated some parts of infrastructure more important than others, the study also identified voting blocs that could form the basis for organizing greater awareness and public support.
|Roads and bridges
|Older (Boomers) males living in the Northeast|
|Drinking, wastewater systems
|African-American and Hispanic females in the South|
|Electric energy grid
|Millennials, Republicans and Independents|
|Urban mass transit systems||Millennial African-Americans and Hispanics living in
|Air transportation||Millennials and GenXers with college degrees and above
Broaden funding and oversight
5. Broaden funding and oversight
On the issue of funding, voters were divided on how to pay for infrastructure needs. A plurality (42 percent) of respondents leaned toward spending cuts, 27 percent said that infrastructure spending should be fully funded through tax increases while 31 percent said it should be a combination of the two. The study also explored which parts of government voters most trust to administer infrastructure spending.
The study is part of Brodeur’s ongoing exploration of relevance, the ability to drive behavior change by making meaningful connections with important audiences.
“It’s critical to back up strategic communications expertise with objective data on what people are thinking and what might prompt them to act,” said Brodeur CEO Andrea Coville, author of Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition. “We think we’ve uncovered some insights that will be relevant to policy makers as well as companies that would actually do the desperately needed work on our infrastructure.”
The study was conducted by Brodeur Partners, May 9-19, 2017 using Toluna’s online panel in the USA (ages 18 and over). Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Toluna surveys. Data was weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the U.S population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in Toluna surveys, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.