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Survey finds changing attitudes in Hawaii regarding pandemic

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Parkgoers took in the afternoon sun and sea air without masks at Ala Moana Regional Park on Wednesday, a week after the state relaxed mask mandates outdoors.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Parkgoers took in the afternoon sun and sea air without masks at Ala Moana Regional Park on Wednesday, a week after the state relaxed mask mandates outdoors.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                According to a new statewide poll, Hawaii residents think the coronavirus pandemic is improving. A jogger ran the point at Magic Island inside Ala Moana Regional Park on Wednesday.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    According to a new statewide poll, Hawaii residents think the coronavirus pandemic is improving. A jogger ran the point at Magic Island inside Ala Moana Regional Park on Wednesday.

With the pandemic appearing to wane and the economy showing signs of life, many Hawaii residents have discovered a new attitude: optimism.

According to a statewide poll, most people think the coronavirus crisis is getting better and the government’s management of the situation is headed in the right direction.

In addition, fewer people are worried about family members getting sick than last summer when the number of coronavirus cases was starting to reach triple digits.

The improving attitudes are reflected in the latest Community Pulse Survey conducted last month by SMS Research & Marketing Service Inc. of Honolulu.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he agreed with those who believe things are getting better.

“We’re closer than people think to getting back to normal,” Green said. “We’re really near the end of the pandemic. We’re not at the end, but we’re near.”

Green said Hawaii’s vaccination rate — third best in the nation — is helping to put a lid on case counts, active cases and hospitalizations, and he would expect Gov. David Ige soon to make some major policy announcements in regard to steps toward returning to normality.

Daily case counts in Hawaii have been trending lower, and Green said he expects those numbers to stay under 50 daily cases in the coming weeks. Health officials reported 25 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and no new deaths.

“It’s looking awfully good,” Green said.

According to the survey, 67% of adult residents in the state think Hawaii government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic is headed in the right direction, while only 23% said it was going in the wrong direction and 10% didn’t know.

Epidemiologist Ruth Bessinger, a private consultant on Oahu, said the numbers sound about right.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” she said.

The conservative approach Ige has taken so far has helped to keep hospitalization and illness rates low in Hawaii, Bessinger said, and the state is now starting to open up and to update guidelines in alignment with the science.

The number of people who view the management of the crisis in a positive light is significantly higher than the last time SMS conducted its survey, in October, when less than half of those surveyed said the government was doing a good job with the pandemic. At the time, coronavirus cases were hovering just below 100 per day.

Interestingly, the response to the crisis management question is quite similar to the response to the same question one year ago, when 64% said the government was doing a good job. At the time, Hawaii was seeing just a few cases each day.

Asked for an impression of the coronavirus situation in Hawaii today, 64% responded that the pandemic is slowly getting better, while 13% said it has hit a plateau and only 12% felt it is still getting worse.

Compare that to the same survey in early August, when 81% said the pandemic was still getting worse.

Asked in the latest survey how worried they are about getting the virus or about a family member getting sick, only 18% said they were very worried compared to 44% nine months ago.

“That reflects our vaccination rates and lower case loads,” Bessinger said.

The latest survey was conducted from May 18 to May 26 with responses from 412 people across Hawaii.

Daniel Nahoopii, SMS executive vice president, said that confidence in the government and the improvement of the pandemic was seen more by older adults and those with higher incomes.

Some 83% of residents 70 years and older believed the state government is moving in the right direction, while only 47% of those 18 to 24 feel the same way, he said.

Additionally, only 49% of residents between 18 and 29 felt the pandemic is getting better as compared to 71% of residents over 70.

In regard to income, 72% of households making $100,000 or more feel that things are slowly getting better, while only 45% of households with incomes under $50,000 believe the same, Nahoopii said.

A closer look at responses broken down by ethnicity found that Native Hawaiians are the least positive about the actions of state government when it comes to the virus.

Only half of Native Hawaiians said government was steering us in the right direction, while other ethnic groups — Chinese (68%), Caucasian (69%), Filipino (76%), Japanese (79%) — were more positive.

As for the possibility of coming down with COVID-19, it appears families have the most concerns, Nahoopii said, including households of four or more and their parents, adults 30 years of age to 49.

Both are more likely worried about someone getting sick with COVID-19, compared to the overall population, he said.

Newcomers seem to be less worried about getting sick, according to the survey. Only 7% of residents who have lived in the islands for less than five years are very worried as compared to 20% of those who are lifetime residents.

The statewide SMS Community Pulse surveys are independent, non-sponsored surveys. In 2020 the surveys were conducted in May, June, August and October.

All the surveys queried 400-plus people and have a sampling error estimate of plus or minus 5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. According to SMS, the data were balanced to reflect the adult population of the state using the 2019 U.S. Census data.

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