Voters say former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie would be more effective in dealing with Washington, D.C., better understands the needs of unions and business and has the ability to chart Hawaii’s future, a new Hawaii Poll has found, but they also contend that Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona has the better character.
Abercrombie has the advantage over Aiona in the governor’s race, the poll showed, and the five questions about the qualities of the candidates can help explain why voters are making their choices.
Similar to a Hawaii Poll in August, voters said they thought Abercrombie, the Democrat, would do better in Washington, with unions and in crafting a plan for the state’s future. But in August voters thought his primary opponent, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, better understood business.
Voters now think Abercrombie would better understand business than Aiona, even though the Republican has made reducing tax and regulatory burdens significant planks in his campaign.
Voters said they believe Aiona has the better character, just as they thought Hannemann had the better character in the primary, a pattern that suggests voters may be equating religion with character.
Aiona, a Catholic, and Hannemann, a Mormon, have made their faiths part of their public personas. Abercrombie, a confirmed Episcopalian, has rarely spoken of his religion but says there is a spiritual element to his life.
"To be honest with you, I’m a little bit jaded in terms of politics," said Jonathon Medeiros, a high school teacher who lives in Kalaheo, Kauai, and favors Abercrombie. "I don’t know how much either side is going to change the future. I do feel like he has a plan for the future, and I trust it and that’s why I’m voting for him."
Margaret Davis, a retired information technology specialist who lives in Aiea, said Abercrombie’s Washington connections will be helpful to the state. She also likes that he has been an advocate for military housing and benefits.
She finds both candidates genuine and likable.
"I’m not one of these people that votes on the basis of whether I want to sit down and have a beer with them, OK?" she said. "I prefer intelligence over beer, thanks."
But like several voters interviewed over the past few days, Davis is concerned about the influence of Aiona’s strong religious faith on public policy. Few voters mentioned religion in interviews after the Hawaii Poll results in August and April, but the issue appears to be on the radar now. Aiona has said he understands the principles behind the separation of church and state but would provide opportunities for people to pray at the state Capitol if they choose.
"I’m a little bit concerned about the religion thing," said Davis, who does not believe religion should be mixed with government.
Bobbie Slater, who operates a small jewelry business and lives in Pacific Heights, said she is uncomfortable with Abercrombie’s ties to labor unions.
"I don’t think it’s healthy for us to have Abercrombie with his huge union connections," she said. "It’s coming to the point where that’s not beneficial to us. I would rather have a candidate that did not have all the union endorsements."
Slater said she thinks Aiona, who visited more than 100 small businesses in 100 days earlier in the campaign, would more attuned to business. "I suspect that Aiona will be better in trying to develop better attitudes toward small business, which are definitely needed," she said.
The telephone poll was conducted by Ward Research for the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now from Oct. 12 to last Tuesday among 608 likely voters statewide. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.
Breaking down the poll results by demographics — such as gender, ethnicity, income and politics — showed some revealing trends.
Voters from most backgrounds — except Republicans — said Abercrombie, who spent two decades in Congress, would be more effective in dealing with Washington. Most voters — except Republicans — also said Abercrombie better understands the needs of unions.
Voters were more divided on which candidate better understands the needs of business. Abercrombie took most demographic groups except for Hawaiians, young people, Republicans and independents. Men were split.
Most voters — except Japanese-Americans, Filipinos and Democrats — said they thought Aiona has the better character.
Most voters — except Hawaiians, young people, Republicans and independents — said they believe Abercrombie would be better able to chart the state’s future. Nonunion households were split.
John Hart, a communication professor at Hawaii Pacific University, said voters can be as influenced by their impressions of the candidates, or a telling anecdote or episode during a campaign, as by the candidates’ positions on public policy.
"I think the average voter has a difficult time with microeconomic policy, and they look for that defining moment that sums up the candidate for them," he said.