With barely a week to go before the primary election, state Sen. David Ige has a double-digit lead over Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, a new Civil Beat Poll shows.
A majority of Hawaii voters surveyed statewide, or 51 percent, who say they will vote in the Democratic primary said they would vote for Ige, compared with 41 percent for Abercrombie. Just 8 percent said they are undecided.
The new survey suggests that Ige’s surprisingly strong showing in a Civil Beat Poll published June 12 was no fluke. Ige led Abercrombie 48-37 percent at that time.
Surprising, because Ige is a relatively unknown challenger with a more than 10-to-1 fundraising disadvantage against Abercrombie, who is the far better-known politician.
What’s more, the state’s economy is growing steadily, unemployment is low and the administration has a record that includes significant accomplishments.
The explanation for voter sentiment, the poll suggests, is that a lot of people simply don’t care much for Neil Abercrombie.
Civil Beat surveyed 1,240 registered voters statewide July 24-28. Of those, 895 said they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary. Using those numbers for likely Democratic voters, this poll has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
The poll included landlines and cell phone users. Civil Beat did not include a third Democrat running for governor, Van K. Tanabe, in this survey.
Just 43 percent of those voters said they view the governor positively compared with 47 percent who have a negative view. Only 9 percent said they were unsure.
In sharp contrast, Ige’s positive rating is 59 percent and his negative numbers a mere 12 percent. While almost one-third of voters (29 percent) still don’t have an opinion of Ige, more people are becoming familiar with him.
“Those numbers suggest where this race may be headed,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted The Civil Beat Poll. “Ige, even as recently as about two months ago, had more people saying they are going to vote for him than those who had an opinion of him. Since that time, the voters have clearly taken a look at Ige and they like what they’ve seen.”
Indeed, 55 percent of voters who say the are voting in the Democratic primary said the reason for their choice was that they were against Abercrombie, compared with 42 percent who said they were for Ige.
In the June poll, only 27 percent said they were voting for Ige. His campaign, while modest in size compared to the governor’s, is gaining traction.
Another telling statistic: Sixty-two percent of voters who support Abercrombie said they decided to vote for him three months ago or earlier. The remainder made up their mind since that time.
Ige’s numbers tell a different story.
Less than one-fourth of voters (23 percent) said they decided to vote for Ige three months ago or earlier, while more than one-third (36 percent) decided within the past two to three months, and 40 percent made up their mind in July.
Put another way, voters are moving Ige’s way — despite the barrage of television advertising from the Abercrombie campaign and the governor’s high profile in the public arena, often through his official capacity as chief executive.
“It’s hard to imagine the dynamics of this race changing in the last 10 days given the percentage of votes that have already been cast,” said Fitch, referring to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser report that said nearly one-third of the ballots mailed on Oahu had already been returned as of Monday.
In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor Shan Tsutsui leads state Sen. Clayton Hee 45-35 percent. One-fifth of the electorate, however, is undecided in that race.
Fitch described the LG numbers as “soft” and said the race “could go either way.”
Civil Beat did not include three other Democratic candidates for LG — Mary Zanakis, Sam Puletasi and Miles Shiratori — in our survey.
Either Ige or Abercrombie will face Mufi Hannemann, the former Honolulu mayor, in the general election race for governor, and probably Republican Duke Aiona, the former lieutenant governor who is favored to win the GOP primary against Stuart Todd Gregory and Charles Collins.
Coming Monday: Our pollsters explain the methodology behind Civil Beat’s polls. And watch for full results and a demographic breakdown as we wrap up our final poll before the Aug. 9 primary.