From legislator to executive.

That was the jump former Congressman Neil Abercrombie made last year when he sailed to victory as a candidate who listened to the people.

Once in office, something changed. The guy who crusaded as a congressman found himself having to lead as a governor.

It hasn’t gone too well. We learned last week that the governor has the lowest approval rating in the nation.

Now the question is whether the governor will listen to what the public is saying.

The Civil Beat Poll, just completed on Sunday night, delivers a strong message: 63 percent of likely voters said that the governor is doing a worse job than they expected when he was elected last November. Just 15 percent said he was doing a better job, with 14 percent saying his performance was what they expected (that doesn’t necessarily mean they approve of it) and 8 percent unsure.

The automated telephone poll of 1,152 likely voters was conducted on Oct. 20 and 23. The sampling margin of error is +/- 3 percent.

“I feel like Richard Fariña — ‘I’ve been down so long it feels like up to me,'” the governor told Civil Beat in an interview Wednesday, quoting the ’60s folksinger.

“Like I say, I play all four quarters, so this is still the first quarter. People will judge us at the end on our work output — the results of it.”

Abercrombie Approval

For a politician who won office with 58 percent of the vote just last year, the results of the poll were unrelentingly negative.

Abercrombie’s approval rating is terrible. Only a quarter of likely voters, 24 percent, said they have a positive opinion of the governor’s job performance during the past year. The negative number was 64 percent. (To put that into perspective, 63 percent of respondents said they have a positive view of President Barack Obama’s performance in office over the past year.) A small group, 13 percent, was unsure of their opinion on Abercrombie’s performance.

The governor’s decisions to impose a new contract on teachers, to invoke emergency powers and to raise taxes and fees — critical steps in his first year in office — are all opposed by more people than support them.

  • On the teachers contract, which is now before the Hawaii Labor Board, 48 percent oppose the way the governor acted, with 39 percent supporting his decision and 13 percent saying they’re unsure or that it doesn’t matter.
  • On the decision to invoke emergency powers, the numbers are very similar: 45 percent oppose his decision, 36 percent support it and 19 percent say it doesn’t matter or they’re unsure of their opinion.
  • On taxes and fees, the story was even worse for the governor: 58 percent of respondents said they thought raising taxes and fees was generally a bad decision, with just 27 percent saying it was a good decision and 15 percent saying they were unsure or that it didn’t matter. The governor this year urged the Legislature to increase revenues by raising taxes and fees. It didn’t go as far as he suggested, but this year’s budget is up 8 percent.

“I never make a decision solely upon the basis of whether it is going to advance me — particularly in this situation as governor,” Abercrombie said. “You have to do things that you almost know are not necessarily going to be popular.”

The negativity about the governor’s performance was reflected in people’s response to a question about the direction of the state. Fifty-five percent said that things in Hawaii are generally going in the wrong direction, with just 29 percent saying they feel that things are going in the right direction and 16 percent unsure.

The answers to the direction of the state question essentially mirrored the answers to a similar question about the direction of the country.

However Abercrombie fared dismally compared with President Barack Obama. The governor’s negative rating was 64 percent, while the president’s negative rating was 32 percent. The president won approval for his performance on the job from 63 percent of respondents, while only 24 percent of respondents had a positive opinion of Abercrombie’s job performance.

Democrats Unhappy

The news for Abercrombie gets worse when the opinions of members of his own party are examined. Just 30 percent of Democrats have a positive view of his job performance. Of course, that’s better than the 17 percent of Republicans who feel the same way and 18 percent of Independents who view him positively. No age group views the governor’s performance more positively than negatively.

When it comes to meeting expectations, the same holds true. Among Democrats, 62 percent said Abercrombie is doing a worse job than they expected, versus 18 percent who said he was doing a better job, 12 percent the same as expected and 8 percent unsure. The numbers for Republicans and Independents were essentially identical, with 70 percent of GOP voters and 69 percent of Independent voters saying he was doing a worse job than expected.

Questions and Answers: Teachers Contract

Regarding the teachers contract, Civil Beat asked: “Do you generally support or oppose the Governor’s decision to impose a new contract on teachers that includes a 5-percent pay cut and makes teachers contribute more toward their health-care costs?”

The poll found that Democrats strongly oppose his decision, 55 percent to 31 percent. Republicans are closely divided, with 48 percent opposing the governor’s decision and 44 percent supporting it. Only Independents clearly back the governor on this issue, with 53 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed.

In households where the respondent was a parent or caretaker of a child in school, 54 percent opposed his decision and 36 percent supported it. Among respondents who weren’t parents, 47 percent opposed his decision and 41 percent backed it.

Only people in households earning more than $100,000 supported Abercrombie on the teachers contract, with 53 percent backing him and 40 percent opposed.

Questions and Answers: Emergency Powers

Civil Beat asked: “Do you generally support or oppose the governor’s decision to invoke emergency powers on three occasions without informing the public: to repair Kuhio Highway on Kauai, to relocate endangered Nene from Kauai airport, and to clean up unexploded military ordnance from state lands?”

The poll found Democrats were split, with 43 percent supporting the governor and 39 percent opposing his decision.

Independents and Republicans were strongly opposed, with 50 percent of Independents against his decision and 34 percent for it. On the Republican side, 57 percent opposed the governor’s decision and 29 percent supported it.

Questions and Answers: Taxes and Fees

Civil Beat asked: “This past year, Governor Abercrombie increased the size of the state budget. He paid for that increase by raising some taxes and fees. Would you say that this was generally a good decision or a bad decision?”

The poll found that not even Democrats supported his move, with 46 percent opposed and 38 percent in favor.

“I mean, I accept that,” the governor told Civil Beat. “Who does want to pay more or see their fees increase?”

As would be expected, Republicans lined up overwhelmingly against the hike, with 77 percent opposed and 14 percent in favor. Sixty-four percent of Independents thought it was a bad decision, with 23 percent saying it was a good decision. The increase in taxes and fees was opposed by every age group, every education level and every income level.

“I’m sure they didn’t like it,” Abercrombie said. “But, as you well know, the Legislature and this administration not only has to balance the budget, we have to deal with the consequences of making a pension system work, be able to make our medical-care payments. I’m sure many of the same people who made that comment also want to have their services continue. So, you have to make the decisions that allow that to happen.”

One other thing The Civil Beat Poll found is that while more supporters of President Obama feel negative about Abercrombie’s job performance, 56 percent to 32 percent, Abercrombie’s supporters feel incredibly positive about Obama’s performance, giving him an 85 percent approval rating.

  • Chad Blair contributed to this article.

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