Lt. Gov. Josh Green, the leading candidate so far to become Hawaii’s next governor, has a commanding 65% overall approval rating among Hawaii voters — and an even more impressive 70% approval for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Poll shows.
Green’s dominance includes majority support from every county, ethnic group and even 52% overall support from Republicans, according to the poll. His approval rating fell below 50% only once, when Republican poll respondents gave him an approval rating of 47% on his handling of COVID-19.
The overwhelming support in the Hawaii Poll comes six months ahead of the primary election, when voters will have their first official say on which candidate should succeed Gov. David Ige.
“I can’t recall anyone having numbers this high,” said Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center. “He’s the most popular politician in Hawaii, that’s for sure. Green’s popularity is off the charts, and it has sustained throughout this (COVID-19) crisis, which could have hurt him.”
There’s still a long way to go before the Aug. 13 primary and even longer to the Nov. 8 general election — and anything could happen.
“It is his to lose,” Moore said. “How he presents himself in the campaign is important, but people already like him. He would have to offend a lot of voters who already say they support him. It’s hard to imagine how his numbers would dip to put him in danger.”
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Green, a Kona emergency room doctor, has been the face of the state’s response to COVID-19 for nearly two years. He represented his Hawaii island district in the state Senate before being elected lieutenant governor for Ige’s second term.
The Hawaii Poll was conducted Jan. 24 to 28 by telephone by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Washington, D.C. It included 800 registered Hawaii voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Among Hawaii’s four counties, Green’s highest overall support comes from Hawaii County (71%), followed by Maui County (70%), Honolulu County (63%) and Kauai County (62%), the poll shows.
His approval ratings are much wider, but still dominant, among ethnic groups: 77% from Japanese; 71% from Hawaiians; 62% from “Mixed/Other;” and 58% from whites.
While 79% of Democrats say they approve of Green’s overall performance, so do 52% of Republicans and 57% of independent poll participants.
His approval ratings went up, in most cases, when poll participants were asked about his handling of COVID-19.
Democrats overwhelmingly approve (83%), as do independents (68%), but Republicans (47%) are not as enthusiastic.
By comparison, Ige received only a 49% overall approval rating for his handling of COVID-19.
“The overall headline here is he (Green) does really well with everybody and even with Republicans,” said political analyst Neal Milner. “All in all, he did really well. These numbers are a good sign.”
The Hawaii Poll was released just after Green and fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates Vicky Cayetano and former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell reported their latest fundraising figures.
Green raised $774,616 between July 1 and Monday’s filing deadline. That compares with $475,274 for Cayetano, whose contributions included a $350,000 loan she gave to her campaign.
Green reported $1,125,877 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31. Cayetano reported $655,407 in cash on hand.
Caldwell raised $344,861 during the same period and reported $717,678 in cash on hand.
On the Republican side, Kona business consultant Paul Morgan raised $6,300 and reported $4,092 in cash on hand. Army veteran Lynn Mariano took in no contributions and had a negative balance of $176.
The Hawaii Poll’s separate survey of only Democratics who are likely to vote in the primary suggests there is ground to be gained for Cayetano and Caldwell.
Asked who they would vote for, 58% said Green, 11% said Caldwell and 8% said Cayetano; 23% said they were undecided.
The question was put to 320 likely Democratic primary voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.
In a statement to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Green’s campaign said, “Green is viewed as consistent and credible, winning high job approval and favorability ratings from voters who view him as the leader of the largest public health initiative in state history. Leadership on this statewide crisis has transcended historic identity politics resulting in unprecedented support among, for example, the Japanese community and the Hawaiian community.”
Green told the Star-Advertiser in a statement, “We’ve been through a lot together in Hawaii over the past two years, so I’m humbled to have the support and trust of so many people across our state, but I don’t take it for granted. I care about people. I want to bring people together.”
Hawaii Poll participants were asked whether they recognized the names of Green, Caldwell and Cayetano and whether they had favorable, unfavorable or neutral opinions of them.
Some 56% of respondents said they recognized Green’s name and had a favorable opinion, compared to 24% for Caldwell and 13% for Cayetano.
By comparison, 13% of respondents said they have an unfavorable opinion of Green, compared to 29% for Caldwell and 9% for Cayetano, Hawaii’s former first lady. Only 7% said they did not recognize Green’s name, compared to 11% for Caldwell and 35% for Cayetano, suggesting she has to remind voters of who she is.
“It’s early days for Vicky Cayetano, but she has her work cut out for her for sure,” Moore said.
Cayetano said there’s time for her to gain support before the first votes are cast.
“The poll results were not a surprise as we know we have not been campaigning as the other candidates have, and at this point, we are pleased with our favorability ratings. Our internal poll numbers show our base of support is growing, and we will continue to work hard at getting our message out … ,” she said.
“As any entrepreneur knows, it takes a lot of time and energy to start a new venture, whether it is a business or a campaign. My opponents have spent years in public office, yet these same issues — cost of housing, undermanaged tourism, an economic recovery plan — remain even more critical today.”
When it comes to former Mayor Caldwell and his approval numbers, Moore said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if he decided not to run. This is going to be very challenging, based on what these poll results show.”
Milner, the political analyst, however, said quitting a political race is not part of Caldwell’s DNA.
“If you’re Kirk Caldwell, it’s hard to imagine you dropping out of the race. That’s not what Kirk Caldwell does,” Milner said. “He’s got a network, he’s got fundraising and he’s a pro when it comes to campaigning. He’s shown that in the past.”
Given the results of the poll, Milner said a gubernatorial win by Caldwell would represent “the comeback story of the modern Hawaii era. If somehow Caldwell could turn that around, especially with rail hanging over him, that would be amazing.”
Caldwell indicated that he remains optimistic about his level of support.
“Our state is at a pivotal point in its history, change is in the wind, and this is an important opportunity to direct our state toward a more resilient future,” Caldwell said in a statement. “We are very happy with the support we continue to receive, and I am working hard to help Hawai‘i not only recover from the pandemic, but to build a stronger and healthier community as a result.
“The cash on hand is significant in that it allows me to reach out to voters statewide on the very serious issues facing Hawai‘i. The campaign has gained momentum, and I look forward to a competitive race.”
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