U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has a 20-percentage-point lead over incumbent Gov. David Ige less than five months away from the Democratic primary, with 47 percent of likely Democratic voters saying they would vote for Hanabusa if the election were held today, according to a new Hawaii Poll by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Only 27 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they would support Ige if the election were held today, an extraordinarily poor showing for an incumbent governor in Hawaii.
Former state Sen. Clayton Hee, another Democrat, is well behind both Ige and Hanabusa with 11 percent. However, Hee said he is encouraged by the poll numbers in the three-way primary because he announced his candidacy only last month.
Meanwhile, in the Republican primary between former state Sen. John Carroll and state Rep. Andria Tupola, 40 percent of likely Republican voters said they would vote for Carroll if the election were held today, while only 28 percent said they would support Tupola.
However, many GOP voters said they are unacquainted with either candidate, with 57 percent indicating they didn’t recognize Tupola’s name, and 42 percent saying they were unfamiliar with Carroll.
Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the Ige-Hanabusa-Hee numbers show the governor has a very serious problem.
“He’s in trouble,” Moore said. “A 20-point deficit for the incumbent governor is a very tough margin to make up.”
He added: “Hanabusa is well liked, her favorables are much, much higher, and you see that reflected in the horse race polling. So if you’re an incumbent and you’re that far behind, that’s not the sort of news you’d want to get.”
With the state economy humming and the unemployment rate at historic lows, an incumbent governor from the dominant party would normally be almost unbeatable, Moore said. Yet only 29 percent of the Democrats who were polled said they had a favorable opinion of Ige.
Question of leadership
Moore traces much of that discontent back to the Jan. 13 false ballistic missile alert, which seems to have confirmed the suspicions of some voters that Ige is not a strong leader.
That alert triggered by an employee in the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency incorrectly warned of an incoming ballistic missile attack and caused panic as it popped up on cellular phones across the state. Perhaps most damaging for Ige was that the alert wasn’t officially canceled by HI-EMA for 38 minutes, prompting a prolonged public outcry.
The state fired the warning officer who triggered the alert, and HI-EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi resigned, but Moore said the incident fit a narrative already circulating in political circles that Ige is indecisive and ineffective.
“It sort of confirmed a sense that a lot of voters already had that he wasn’t a strong leader and that he wasn’t really taking charge of the policy challenges the state faces,” Moore said. “That just illustrated that in one terrifying moment. It confirmed what I think a lot of voters already thought.”
Ige said in an interview that previous governors including Ben Cayetano and George Ariyoshi were behind in the polls by as much as he is today and still won second terms, although he said that polling data may not have been made public.
“I’d be the first to admit we haven’t spent as much time promoting ourselves,” Ige said. “I’ve been focused on doing the right things in the right way and getting things done. We know we have a lot of work to do, but I’m confident that as we tell our story and talk about things that we have done, it’s very clear that people are better off today than they were four years ago.
“We have the lowest unemployment in the country, the economy’s moving, we’ve made progress and for the first time homelessness is down,” he said. “We’ve completed 5,300 new housing units, affordable housing is up more than 2,000 units since we’ve come into office. I’m confident as we tell our story and we put our record in front of the people, and they have it to compare to our opponents, that they will make the right decision and re-elect me as governor.”
Hanabusa said in a written statement that “I am humbled so many hard-working community members across the islands are saying they are willing to put their confidence in me. I can only return that confidence by pledging to listen, make informed decisions, and work hard with a sense of urgency to tackle the tough issues that have afflicted our state for far too long.
“I think it’s clear this election is really about one thing: leadership. This is what we’ve been hearing consistently across the state since last fall — that the people of Hawaii desire strong leadership, a clear vision for the future, and the experience to execute.”
Hee, a former chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees, said he is encouraged by the fact that each of the candidates for governor polled at less than 50 percent, but added that “we got a lot of work to do.”
“It’s about messaging, it’s about getting the grassroots to mobilize, and we’ve been working hard every day to see that to fruition,” he said.
Hee entered the race in late February and has stressed his position on the city’s rail project as a way to distinguish himself from his opponents. Both Ige and Hanabusa support the $9 billion Honolulu rail project, while Hee opposes rail and on Friday called on the city to stop the project at Middle Street.
On the Republican side, three-time gubernatorial candidate Carroll, 88, said he believes he has higher name recognition than the Hawaii Poll numbers suggest.
“My feeling is that we’re going to win everything, to tell you the honest truth, and I base it simply not on name recognition but when people start looking at qualifications,” he said. “If you put all four of the other guys together and add up their resumes, they don’t add up to even about half of mine.”
Carroll, a Korean war veteran, is a former lawyer who served in the state House and Senate in the 1970s and is a past chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party.
Tupola, the House minority leader whose district covers Kalaeloa, Ko Olina and Maili, is serving her second term in the state House. She dismissed the poll results because the sample of likely Republican primary voters was limited to 134 responses.
“The race is going great as far as I’m concerned, lots of good traction on the neighbor islands as well as on this island, constant nonstop events, from live events in person to social media events, Facebook videos — it’s been great, a good experience,” she said.
Uphill battle for GOP
The poll data suggest that no matter who wins the GOP primary, it will be an enormous challenge for the Republican candidate to win the general election in heavily Democratic Hawaii.
In hypothetical matchups between Ige and Tupola, and between Ige and Carroll, the data suggests Ige would win each of those races by a margin of about 2-to-1 if the election were held today.
The poll shows Hanabusa would win by approximately the same margin in those hypothetical contests if the election were held today.
Ige became governor after Hawaii Democrats rejected former Gov. Neil Abercrombie for a second term in 2014, and the state may be poised to oust yet another incumbent Democratic governor. To have that happen twice in a row would be an incredibly rare event, and would seem to be tied to a “local malaise,” Moore said.
Moore believes many Hawaii voters have soured on the ruling Democrats, but that does not seem to translate into an opportunity for Hawaii Republicans. The GOP has been reduced to just five members in the 76-member state Legislature.
“I think the problem is that folks don’t have anywhere to turn,” Moore said. “The fact that the Republican Party is associated with Trumpism, kind of this deep mainland conservatism I think that people fear is also tied up with racism, means that they just don’t see that as a viable option. But they’re also pretty frustrated with the Democrats.”
The Democratic primary component of the Hawaii Poll was conducted March 13-18 on cell phones and landlines by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy and included 498 likely statewide Democratic primary voters. The margin of error for that portion of the poll is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
The Republican primary portion of the poll was conducted during the same period on cell phones and land lines by Mason-Dixon and included 134 likely statewide Republican primary voters. The margin of error for that portion of the poll is plus or minus 8.6 percentage points.
The Hawaii Poll – March 2018: Governor's Race by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd