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Abercrombie’s approval rating reflects the weak economy

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Campaigning may be tough, but it comes with a support staff, advice and the ability to bob and weave. It is when you win that the trouble starts.

A new Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll shows Gov. Neil Abercrombie with a 50 percent job approval rating, with a 4 percent margin of error. So the glass is either half full or half empty.

It also means that Abercrombie could be doing a lot better. A 50 percent on your driver’s test means you walk home.

This is the first local measurement of Abercrombie’s governorship, although last month the liberal Democratic Internet site, Daily Kos, hired Public Policy Polling and found Abercrombie with a 48 percent job approval rating.

Asked what this means, House Speaker Calvin Say, a strong Abercrombie ally in the Legislature, said the freshman governor didn’t know what he was in for when he ran.

"I truly believe he didn’t realize what he was getting himself into," Say said last week.

Abercrombie, Say speculated, didn’t understand the depth of Hawaii’s economic problems, and the public’s desperate desire for more jobs "really put him at a disadvantage."

"He can only get better," said Say, who acknowledges that during the session he "carried the administration’s water for them."

Becki Ward, president of Ward Research, who conducted the poll, noted that "during the campaign, there were handlers who had him under control," but now Abercrombie is essentially flying solo in his decision making.

The poll shows some residual benefits from Abercrombie’s blockbuster winning campaign in which he beat GOP former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona by 17 percentage points.

First, Abercrombie enjoys more support on the neighbor islands and more support from women than men. He has the same support among various ethnic groups. One area of weakness is among voters who call themselves "independents." Among independent voters, Abercrombie’s job performance is viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 45 percent.

How does this compare to other governors?

Against former Gov. Linda Lingle, Abercrombie is barely in the same room. Lingle opened up her freshman term with 71 percent job approval.

Across the country, governors this year are having to deal with the loss of tax money and continue to make unpopular budget decisions. California’s Jerry Brown, for instance, won just 44 percent approval for his job performance so far.

Both Brown and Abercrombie might be jealously watching New York’s new governor, Andrew Cuomo; He is among the nation’s most popular with a 72 percent favorable rating.

These calculations can translate into real political power: A governor who enjoys the high ground can rally the public support for their own programs, while chopping down opponents.

For Abercrombie, the mission ahead is much more difficult. It is not likely that island mothers are saying, "Why can’t you be more quiet and well spoken, like Gov. Abercrombie?"

His bombastic, in-your-face style leads him to say things like "I’m the governor, I’m not your pal," and to tell North Shore residents that "nothing is going to happen here absent the approval of the governor."


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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