Republican Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou is on his way to Washington to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted for Civil Beat.

Djou leads with 39.5 percent of the vote, followed by former Congressman Ed Case and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who are tied at 25.5 percent, according to the poll by Aloha Vote, a Hawaii subsidiary of Merriman River Group (MRG), a Connecticut research organization. Nearly 10 percent are undecided.

“He’s got it all but wrapped up,” Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, said of Djou’s chances in the May 22 special election. “The only thing in question is who finishes second.”

Second place could matter for the Democratic primary in September, when Case and Hanabusa are widely expected to face off again. Any edge heading into that contest would be prized, because the winner of that primary will likely be favored to win the seat in November. If Case’s and Hanabusa’s support in the special election were combined, it would give a single Democratic candidate more than 50 percent of the vote.

“Finishing second here might translate into being the favorite in November,” Fitch said. “I think it’s going to be Hanabusa,” he said, explaining that Japanese Americans, the group with whom she is strongest, are slightly less likely to provide demographic information or take a poll. “If there’s any underreporting, it would be for Hanabusa. Since she’s so close, I think she outfinishes him.”

The automated telephone poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percentage points. The poll of 1,081 likely voters was conducted on May 6 and 7.

More than half the respondents — 52.6 percent — had already voted. And of that group, Djou got 45 percent of the vote, one reason it’s so difficult to imagine trends changing in any significant way between now and May 22.

A Republican victory in President Obama’s childhood congressional district would be another blow to Democrats nationally. Democratic incumbent Neil Abercrombie, who represented the district without interruption since 1991, won 70 percent of the vote in 2008, essentially the same share as Obama.

The special election was made necessary when Abercrombie resigned earlier this year to run for governor of Hawaii. Both Case and Hanabusa have said they plan to run in the Democratic primary, no matter the outcome on May 22.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the poll is the number of 1st Congressional District voters who said they considered themselves a member of the Tea Party, a movement that grew out of concerns over the expansion of government under President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress. Almost 13 percent of likely voters in the poll identified themselves with the Tea Party.

“Djou has a lot of supporters who are not in the Tea Party,” said Seth Rosenthal, Merriman River Group’s director of polling. “But without them, he’d be in a three-way tie with the other candidates. They seem to make the difference in the outcome.”

Djou is also strongest among the much sought after independents. He wins 52 percent of independents, to 27 for Case and only 12 for Hanabusa.

Hanabusa, though, dominates among Democrats, with a 10 percentage point lead, 45 to 35. Djou is supported by 13 percent of Democrats.

By far the most important issue for district voters is the economy, with 39.1 of respondents listing it as their top concern. The second highest issue was education, with 16.7 percent citing it as the most important issue, perhaps because of all the attention in the state over the past few months to resolving the “Furlough Fridays” crisis. National security, with 13.2 percent, and limiting government power, with 11.5 percent, were the only other issues to be picked by more than 10 percent of the respondents.

Among people who picked the economy as the most important issue, Djou leads with 39 percent, Case has 31 and Hanabusa is at 24. The rest are undecided.

The analysts said they believe the race will tighten, because more of Djou’s supporters have already voted, 60 percent versus 51 each for Case and Hanabusa. Also, the undecided voters are more likely to vote for one of the Democrats.

“We think the race will tighten but it’s almost impossible to say Djou won’t win,” Rosenthal said.

Djou leads among voters who believe limiting government power or national security are the most important issues in the election. They are “through the roof” for Djou, Rosenthal said.

Hanabusa wins among voters who identify education as the most important issue, while Case wins among voters who pick energy independence and environmental protection.

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