Digging into bookstores, sidewalks and more

The Pulse of Concord is in its 10th year as an independent survey of your local views.

I encourage both Concord and non-Concord folks to participate in the surveys. I have compared the results of past polls and found that there was a significant difference in less than 5 percent of the responses. But when there were differences, they were amusing.

The second 2019 survey covers a diverse collection of topics. I already had more than 200 responses as of March 5. It will be closed in a few weeks, so if you have not taken it please do so at pulseofconcord.com.

I structure the typical survey format as a statement, followed by a question asking whether you agree, agree strongly, disagree, disagree strongly, have no clue, or just want to throw up, etc. Sometimes the follow-up question is looking for more specific information, such as whether you would prefer a high-rise development of 28 units, 20, units, 15 units, no units, etc.

The topics at hand

Some of the topics in the current survey include:

1. Whether taxpayer money should be used to supplement retail rents in the downtown area.

2. Whether the market will fix the availability of retail bookstores downtown.

3. Whether sidewalks in front of residential single-family homes, which are on the property owner’s deed but also within the public right of way, should be the responsibility of the city to repair, replace and maintain. And whether the city should accept responsibility for trips and falls.

4. Whether a 14-story apartment with 250 apartments, including 75 affordable units, is acceptable downtown.

5. Whether motorized scooters should be allowed on Concord sidewalks.

Other questions touch on taxes, tree policies and the like.

Just the facts, please

I removed one question after some early criticism that I found to be valid. In this question, I was attempting to dig into people’s emotional commitment to something, but the topic I picked was somewhat boneheaded in that it related to national rather than local politics. My apologies.

What I was trying to get at, and maybe the readers can help, is reflected in the following situation:

About 10 years ago, a study in England included a hypothetical political proposition. One group of people received 10 facts in support of the proposition; the other group got 10 facts in opposition to the proposition. Those who were given facts in support of the proposition were asked to determine how strongly they agreed with the proposition.

Similarly, those given facts in opposition to the proposition were surveyed to determine how strongly they disagreed with the proposition. The survey rated the level of agreement or disagreement on a numeric scale.

The survey takers then told each group that all of the 10 facts supporting their positions were, in fact, lies. The two groups were surveyed again to determine how strongly they now agreed or disagreed with the proposition; in other words, to determine if they had changed their minds. The survey again rated the level of agreement or disagreement on a numeric scale.

The goal of the experiment was to determine how strongly people would hold to preconceived ideas or beliefs, even when the facts changed. The study found that, even when the participants were advised that the original facts they based their opinions on were lies, their opinions did not change. In fact, their belief in their original conclusions only became stronger when quantified on a numerical scale.

The conclusion was that an individual’s initial emotional commitment to a position is a very important factor in their belief system and that people tend to discard subsequent information that runs counter to their initial beliefs.

Seeking meaningful resolutions

One of the things I find most valuable in a democracy is the ability to engage freely with people in order to exchange information and to be able to arrive at a common understanding regarding an issue. And most importantly, to be able to change one’s opinion based on new facts that were previously not known or not considered.

So one of my objectives with the Pulse is to help me identify which issues may have the greatest potential for meaningful resolution through public debate. For example, an issue with 30 percent of the respondents in support, 30 percent against and the rest unsure.

As always, send topics and questions for the Pulse to EdiBirsan@gmail.com. It is an independent survey of mine that has nothing to do with local government, the NBA or copyrighted by Major League Baseball.

Edi Birsan