A majority of registered Hawaii voters who plan to vote in the Democratic primary — 51 percent — do not like the way Gov. Neil Abercrombie has been doing his job, according to a new poll.
Just 39 percent said they approve of the governor’s job performance, while 10 percent said they are unsure.
Abercrombie’s numbers have worsened since a Civil Beat Poll in June showed 48 percent of registered voters disapproved of his job performance while just 45 percent approved.
Despite the deterioration of support, it’s not time for Abercrombie to start panicking.
“It’s no big surprise that he is slipping,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “It’s very common for elected officials that are chief executives to struggle three years in — for example, President Obama. You make tough decisions and you have to own them. But Abercrombie has a year to spend reminding people of what he has accomplished.”
That said, Fitch added, “Certainly, he has a challenge ahead — it’s not the easiest sailing. He has his work cut out for him.”
For the Abercrombie poll, Civil Beat surveyed 819 registered Hawaii voters on Oct. 9 and 10. The poll, which included landlines and cell phone users, has a 3.4 percent margin of error.
The governor is banking on a good local economy to secure his re-election. He is also trumpeting his administration’s approach to budgetary matters that he argues have put the state in fiscally sound shape.
We did not survey how voters feel about David Ige, the state senator who is challenging Abercrombie in the Democratic primary; there will be ample opportunity for that next year. And thus far, no prominent Republican has declared their gubernatorial candidacy.
Abercrombie’s lack of support is evident among most groups we surveyed. This includes people above and below 50 years of age, women and especially men, a majority of Caucasians and especially Japanese-Americans, military and labor union households, and all income groups, especially those making over $100,000 a year.
Among the few groups that are more supportive of Abercrombie are those describing themselves as liberal and progressive. (Moderates, independents and conservatives are turned off, however.) The governor also does better on the Big Island and Maui, much less so on Kauai and Oahu.
Honolulu’s rail project is even more unpopular than Hawaii’s governor. Just 35 percent of voters say they support the project while 55 percent oppose.
The results are almost identical to polls we conducted in February 2012 and April 2012, suggesting that opinions are fairly anchored at this point. (That’s right — we polled on rail twice last year because it was a central issue in the Honolulu mayor’s election.)
This time around, we surveyed 540 Oahu voters on rail; the margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percent.
After surviving legal and environmental challenges, the rail project resumed construction last month. Barring a setback in a case before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (or an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court), there do not appear to be any more obstacles on the horizon for the $5.26 billion project.
Still, opposition to the project, according to our poll, endures across the board: age, ethnicity, gender, income, education, ideology.
There is one exception, though. Among labor union households, 47 percent support the project, with 43 percent opposed. The figure may reflect the fact that the rail project means employment for many contractors and their workforces.
Just 10 percent of the people we surveyed said they would ride the rail line once it is completed. Fifty percent said “never” and 34 percent said “once in a while.”
Brendan Hood, a Merriman analyst, said it was not surprising that the rail numbers have remained constant.
“Just the fact that this issue has been in the news for so long in Hawaii, and that not until recently was there any progress, it could be that rail has been discussed so much that maybe people are fed up hearing about it,” he said.
Hood and Fitch said the weak support for Honolulu rail is similar to the numbers for the “Big Dig” project in Boston, a massive road construction project that went well above cost and suffered delays and bad press.
“Now, many people, maybe not a majority, are a lot happier about the Big Dig,” said Hood.
“If you read the news coverage at the beginning and during construction, it was called the worst public works fiasco in American history,” said Fitch. “I’m not saying rail will have that type of turnaround as the Big Dig, but it is a lot easier to be negative with cost overruns and delays.”