A Health Department in disarray, delays in processing unemployment checks, a major outbreak in one of the largest prisons and the on-again, off-again effort to reopen the economy have resulted in a high disapproval rating for Gov. David Ige’s handling of the novel coronavirus.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Hawaii Poll, Oahu voters disapprove of Ige’s virus response by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The poll found that 30% of Oahu voters approved of Ige’s coronavirus response, while 57% disapproved and 13% were undecided.
“How can you approve of someone who does nothing? All he does is volley problems to the various mayors,” said Albert Amiot, a 60-year-old Waipahu resident who took part in the poll. “He doesn’t accept responsibility for anything.”
Ige’s handling of the coronavirus lacked “real leadership,” “transparency” and “urgency,” Amiot added. He was particularly critical of Ige’s oversight of the state Department of Health, where the pandemic prompted a leadership change. Former Director Bruce Anderson resigned and was replaced by current Director Libby Char. State Epidemiologist Sarah Park is still out on paid administrative leave following criticism about the department’s initial failure to stand up a robust contact tracing program to mitigate community spread of COVID-19.
“(Ige) doesn’t pass along good information — even when Sarah Park lied to him for months about coronavirus testing,” Amiot said. Amiot said he’s also disappointed that seven months into the pandemic, some people are still waiting for unemployment claims to be processed. Amiot said his home-based business has floundered due to public-safety shutdowns.
On a more positive note for Ige, the majority of poll respondents agree with his pre-arrivals testing strategy to allow tourism to reopen.
As many as 55% of Oahu voters approved of Ige’s policy to allow tourists to skip a 14-day quarantine if they test negative for the coronavirus just before traveling. However, 34% disagreed with the pre-arrivals testing strategy, and 11% were undecided.
The Hawaii Poll of only Oahu voters was conducted Oct. 12-14 by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. A total of 625 registered voters on Oahu were interviewed over both landline and cellular telephones. The margin of error was no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points, which means there’s a 95% probability that the true figure would fall within the poll’s range if all voters were surveyed.
Striking a balance between public safety and the reopening of Hawaii’s economy has been fraught with challenges. While some Oahu residents approved of tourism lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, others have said such actions have taken a greater toll on the economy.
Tourism arrivals took about a 70% year-over-year plunge through August amid a coronavirus dip in travel demand and tourism lockdowns. More than 40% of Hawaii businesses told the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii in August that they couldn’t reopen until tourism restarts.
Still, economists have said that Hawaii’s economic recovery can’t succeed unless COVID-19 is kept in check.
Kathy Tam, a Honolulu poll respondent who is over 50, acknowledged that the pandemic put Ige “between a rock and a hard place.”
“I can’t say that he didn’t try, but you have to learn along the way and unfortunately everybody paid the price. Many businesses are shutting down and closing up forever,” Tam said. “Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Lt. Gov. Josh Green have really tried their best to keep everything with science in mind and trying to be prudent. (Ige) wasn’t out there in front like they were. He should have been more out there grabbing the problem by the reins and just running with it — being the leader.”
Nathalie Rita, a 31-year-old Honolulu resident, said not enough federal CARES Act money has gone toward shoring up people whose lives have been disrupted by the coronavirus.
“There is no economy if we don’t have a healthy population,” said Rita, who is a sociology doctoral student at the University of Hawaii.
The highest support for Ige’s all-encompassing coronavirus response, which included the reopening of tourism and other policy decisions like stay-at-home orders and use of federal CARES Act funds, came from Oahu Democrats, although they were almost evenly divided on the issue. Some 44% of Oahu Democrats said they approved of Ige’s response, while 41% disapproved and 15% were undecided.
Only 13% of Oahu Republicans approved of the way that Ige has handled the coronavirus, 73% opposed it and 14% were undecided.
Some 21% of Oahu Independents approved of Ige’s coronavirus response; however, 70% opposed it and 9% were undecided.
Ige’s coronavirus strategy got a higher approval rating from older Oahu voters, who were at least 50 years old, than younger ones.
Hawaiian voters on Oahu gave Ige the highest marks for his coronavirus strategy of any ethnicity, followed by Japanese voters. Caucasians on Oahu had the highest disapproval rating of Ige’s coronavirus plan, followed by voters from the mixed-race/other category. Oahu’s female voters were more likely to approve of Ige’s handling of the coronavirus than men.
When it came to evaluating Ige’s pre-arrivals testing plan, voters across the parties were almost in lockstep. Oahu Democrats gave Ige’s tourism reopening plan a 58% approval rating and a 31% disapproval rating, and 11% were unsure.
As many as 53% of Oahu Republicans supported Ige’s tourism testing plan, 35% opposed it and 12% were unsure. Oahu independent voters told pollsters that 52% agreed with the plan, 38% opposed it and 10% were undecided.
Voters of Japanese descent agreed the most with Ige’s pre-arrivals testing plan, followed by Caucasians.
Henry Lean Jr., a 43-year-old Hawaiian Airlines cleaner from Waimanalo, said he wished Ige’s coronavirus response had focused “on saving more of the local businesses from shutting down.”
Lean, who was out of work for six months amid the tourism collapse, is only now getting back to work. He said that he worries that the pre-arrivals testing plan is too restrictive for a strong tourism recovery.
“I don’t want them to take any tests. Just have them open it already,” he said.
Rita said two tests are better than one. But in general, Rita said, “I just don’t think we are ready to restart tourism.”
“I’m not envious of anybody in a public position right now,” she said. “I don’t think the decisions are easy. With the vast sacrifices that residents have made in Hawaii, I think that we’re going to see all of that thrown away if we too quickly reintroduce tourism.”