Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann are in a statistical tie ahead of the Democratic primary for governor, a new Hawaii Poll has found, but Abercrombie appears to be holding a slight edge.
Abercrombie drew 49 percent and Hannemann had 44 percent in the poll, while 8 percent said they were undecided. The margin of error was 4.8 percentage points.
But Abercrombie has been the top name in public and private polls since January, a consistency that suggests he has the advantage with voters.
For Shay Chan Hodges, who owns a bookstore in Makawao, Maui, education is a key issue that helped shape her preference for Abercrombie. She said she worries that the state’s public schools are not preparing children for the future.
"It’s not just there’s not enough money," said Hodges. "It’s not just nobody cares. We really need new ideas because we don’t know what problems we’ll be facing 10 years from now."
She said she is encouraged that Abercrombie has said he would be accountable for improving schools.
"We definitely need accountability," she said. "But we also need more than that. We need to look at the whole education system. I’ve tried private schools, I’ve done home-schooling, I’ve done public schools, and I just see that there is – the way people are even looking at education – they are not looking at teaching kids to be creative and to think."
The governor currently has no policy authority over the schools, but a ballot measure in November will ask voters to approve a school board appointed by the governor.
Malia Leinau, a Kailua photographer, said civil unions influenced her decision to back Abercrombie, who supported the civil-unions bill passed by the state Legislature this year that was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. Hannemann has said he would have vetoed the bill.
"That’s sort of weighing heavily on my choice," she said.
Leinau also said that while she believes Honolulu needs a mass-transit solution to traffic congestion, she has concerns about the steel-on-steel design of the rail project the city favored under Hannemann.
"It’s kind of like an old technology that other places are starting to phase out," she said.
In the Star-Advertiser
» Tomorrow: How voters rate the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidates on five key issues, and results of the lieutenant governor candidates’ poll.
» Tuesday: How the Democrats’ candidates for governor match up against presumed GOP nominee Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona Jr. and results of the poll on the mayoral race.
ON HAWAII NEWS NOW
» Tonight: how the Democrats’ candidates for lieutenant governor fared in polling and more on the race for governor.
Albert Harris, a Kakaako accountant, said he believes it was selfish of Abercrombie to give up his seniority in Congress to run for governor. He said Hannemann did a good job as mayor on difficult issues such as rail and sewage treatment.
"He bit the bullet when he had to with the sewers," he said of the agreement between the city and the federal government on sewage treatment. "I also like his demeanor. I think he’s a straight shooter and he’s calm."
The Hawaii Poll was taken by Ward Research for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now. The interviews were conducted from Aug. 10 to Tuesday by telephone among 425 likely Democratic primary voters statewide.
"I’m struck by how similar a lot of the data is for them throughout the poll, so that there is not a clear delineation that this is an Abercrombie voter and this is a Hannemann voter," said Rebecca Ward, president of Ward Research. "Perhaps it’s because it’s the Democratic primary, but there just doesn’t seem to be the clear distinction that we usually can see for one candidate or another."
BUT THE PATTERN across several public and private polls, including a Hawaii Poll taken in late April, has Abercrombie first. Both campaigns confirmed that their own private polling has Abercrombie ahead.
"When consistently you see the same candidate on top, it gives you more confidence that that candidate is indeed ahead," Ward said.
Abercrombie has retained his strength among women and union households, according to the Hawaii Poll. He has opened a gap among independents. And he is more popular on Oahu than is the former mayor .
Hannemann did well among Filipinos and conservatives.
The two Democrats also had remarkably similar
favorability ratings, which were taken from among a larger sample of 604 likely primary voters statewide. The margin of error on the favorability rating questions was 4 percentage points.
Fifty-seven percent said they had a favorable opinion of Abercrombie, while 36 percent had an unfavorable opinion. Fifty-five percent had a favorable opinion of Hannemann, while 38 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
Abercrombie had a higher approval rating on Oahu – where he represented urban Honolulu’s 1st Congressional District for two decades in Congress – than on the neighbor islands.
Hannemann – the mayor of Honolulu for the past six years – had a significantly higher approval rating on the neighbor islands than on Oahu.
Abercrombie has retained his place in public and private polls even as Hannemann surpassed him in other traditional measurements of campaign strength. Hannemann has been able to raise substantially more money for his campaign, and has more cash on hand for a final advertising and get-out-the-vote surge. Hannemann has also pulled in many of the most coveted business and labor endorsements.
"People keep asking me about the money," said John Hart, a communication professor at Hawaii Pacific University. "People keep asking me about the union endorsements. And my answer remains the same: Until we see a translation into voter differential, I think it speaks to the fact that Neil is stronger than a lot of the pundits thought he was."
FOR MONTHS, Abercrombie has cast his campaign as a grass-roots insurgency against the establishment, which is not typically the theme of a front-runner. He said yesterday he believes he is a building a "coalition of change" – with members ranging from conservationists to teachers to venture capitalists – that is reflected in the poll results. He said he is gratified that people appear to be responding to a campaign he likened to a "giant co-op."
"We surely don’t have the money," he said. "We surely don’t have – in fact, Mufi Hannemann has stated over and over again – that he has the establishment forces. The business establishment. The union establishment. The financial establishment. They’re all for him."
Hannemann’s advisers not only believe they have the financial ability to compete in the weeks before the Sept. 18 vote, but their private polling also shows Hannemann closing the gap.
Hannemann said in a statement, "We are definitely in a good position as we head into the primary election. However, we are not taking anything for granted and we will continue to get out into the community to talk about our demonstrated ability to lead, collaborate and get the job done."