Voter approval numbers for Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell have declined in the last two years, according to the latest Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll.
For the first time ever, a greater number of those polled statewide said they disapprove of Ige’s job performance than said they approve, and by a clear margin. Nearly half, or 49 percent, said they disapprove while 39 percent said they approve. That’s a reversal of the January 2016 poll numbers, when 48 percent said they approved of his job performance while 41 percent said they disapproved.
Caldwell, meanwhile, has seen his once very favorable approval dip significantly. In the latest poll his 45 percent approval rating among Oahu voters is well within the margin of error for his disapproval rating of 43 percent. In January 2016 he had an almost 2-to-1 job approval rating with 59 percent OK with his job performance and 32 percent not OK. In January 2015 he had a more than 3-to-1 approval rating, with 64 percent approving and 21 percent disapproving.
President Donald Trump has even less favorable job performance numbers than either Ige or Caldwell, which is not surprising given he lost Hawaii by a sizable amount in the 2016 general election.
The poll was conducted March 13-18 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Washington, D.C. The polling was done by telephone landlines and cellphones. On statewide questions the poll was conducted with 800 registered voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. On Oahu questions the poll was conducted with 535 voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Headache for Ige
Ige’s job performance numbers should give his campaign committee a headache, said Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The average U.S. governor has about a 50 percent job approval rating, Moore said. “So 39 percent is bad, especially if you’re running for re-election,” Moore said. “It’s clearly moving in the wrong direction.”
The poor numbers for Ige are unusual, given that many of the key issues on which an incumbent governor is typically judged would appear to favor him, Moore said. Unemployment rates are among the lowest ever recorded, and job growth remains healthy, he said.
“He should be performing much better than he is, so that means it’s much more about him, not about other factors out of his control like the state of the economy,” Moore said.
Asked whether the recent missile false-alarm incident factored into their decision on Ige’s job performance, 75 percent of those who gave him a disapproval rating said that it did — 39 percent said the incident was a “major factor” in their decision to give him a disapproval grade, 36 percent said it was a “minor factor” and only 24 percent said it was “not a factor.”
Other than the false missile warning, it’s hard to get a grip on what it is that voters don’t like about Ige, Moore said.
“There is a sense that he is just not the person to lead the state,” Moore said. “And I’m sure it must pretty frustrating for Gov. Ige because he can point to some victories like air conditioning (in public schools) and with the exception of the false missile attack, presiding over a prosperous economy … raises for public-sector workers. And so it’s really about communications, leadership and, in some ways, just his personality the public just doesn’t seem to like.”
He added, “That’s a very blunt thing to say, but there’s really no other way to interpret the data.”
Ige, in an emailed statement from his campaign committee, said Monday that “the best decisions are not the most popular, but they are necessary to move our community forward.”
“The people of Hawaii are safer with the toughest gun laws in the nation, we have worked to make college more affordable by allowing high school kids to earn college credits for free, and we have given our teachers a well-deserved pay raise,” Ige said. “We have definitely created a better future for our families.”
Ige acknowledged that “our administration may have not communicated all of our accomplishments, but we are working hard and getting the word out.”
“What’s more, voters will see that all of our decisions were made for the right reasons and I am confident there will be a pathway to victory,” he said. “And, I am certain as the public looks at our administration’s record, the opinions will change.”
Of note was Ige’s poor performance among those of Japanese descent. Only 37 percent of those polled who identified themselves as Japanese gave Ige, of Okinawan descent, a positive approval rating. That’s less than those identifying as Filipino (46 percent), mixed/other (42 percent), Hawaiian (40 percent) and Caucasian (38 percent).
Affected by the rail
Caldwell’s sliding job performance approval numbers, in contrast, can be attributable in large part to the increasing problems tied to the now $9 billion rail project.
Caldwell himself believes so, and told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday that the numbers don’t surprise him.
“I’ve been engaged in a number of controversial issues and have not shied away from them, but headed straight into these issues,” the mayor said. “I ran now twice on a pro-rail platform, and of course there’ve been many, many problems along the way.”
Caldwell said other areas where he’s tried to effectuate changes have also run into controversy, from his “compassionate disruption” handling of homeless camped on the streets to the implementation of protected bike lanes along key Honolulu thoroughfares and his focus on improving Ala Moana Park and Thomas Square.
Asked whether his slipping poll numbers spell doom for his political future, Caldwell said he’s focused on being mayor. “I’m not going to speculate as to some future job.” Even if he were interested in extending his career when his second term runs out in 2020, at this point “I don’t even know what job that would be,” he said.
Caldwell did best among Japanese voters (51 percent approval) and worse with those who identified themselves as Hawaiians (39 percent). He polled best among those who identified themselves as Democrats (54 percent) versus Republicans (35 percent).
Moore said that given the growing disenchantment about the rising costs of the rail project and how much Caldwell is associated with the project, “I have to say he’s performing better than I thought he would in this poll. … He’s gotten criticism from all sides. Hanabusa has attacked him, and certainly the City Council has been at his throat for quite some time, so he’s managed himself pretty well despite that criticism.”
Unlike Ige, whom Caldwell has announced he will be backing in this year’s heated governor’s race, the mayor has had effective communications and makes his positions known clearly to the public, Moore said.
“Whether or not he’s actually around more than the governor, I’m not sure, but the perception is that he is,” Moore said. “So that must be part of it.”
Trump’s poor job performance ratings among registered Hawaii voters is not surprising, given how badly he fared in the 2016 general election. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton beat Trump by a better than 2-to-1 vote margin in the state in the November 2016 general election.
Still, 73 percent of those who identified themselves as Republicans said they approve of Trump’s job performance, and 12 percent of Republicans said they disapprove. Among those identifying themselves as Democrats, 7 percent said they approve and 84 percent said they disapprove. Among independents, 36 percent said they approve and 48 percent said they disapprove.
The president fared best with Caucasian voters (41 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval) and worst with Hawaiians (19 percent approval, 71 percent disapproval). He fared slightly better on Oahu (34 percent approval, 53 percent disapproval) than on the neighbor islands (27 percent approval, 61 percent disapproval).
The Hawaii Poll – March 2018: Job Performance by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd