Charles Djou leads incumbent Kirk Caldwell 42 percent to 33 percent in the race for Honolulu mayor in The Civil Beat Poll, suggesting that neither candidate will garner a majority of the votes in the Aug. 13 primary necessary to win the contest outright.

The poll also shows the massively over-budget Honolulu rail project beats out homelessness, ethics and cost of living when it comes to influencing how people will vote.

Djou and Caldwell are likely headed to a runoff in November, a repeat of the 2012 primary that sent top vote-getter Ben Cayetano and second-place finisher Caldwell to the general election. Caldwell ultimately prevailed with 53 percent of the vote.

Caldwell’s late surge that year was likely aided in part by primary supporters of third-place finisher Peter Carlisle. Then mayor, Carlisle’s support of rail was similar to Caldwell’s, while Cayetano strenuously opposed the project.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell shakes Charles Djou's hand before Rotary mayoral forum starts at the JCCH.26 july 2016
The election for mayor appears to be a two-candidate race. Kirk Caldwell, left, shakes hands with Charles Djou with Peter Carlisle nearby after a forum last month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Carlisle is running again this year, but gets just 9 percent of the vote in The Civil Beat Poll. Sixteen percent of those surveyed said they were unsure of who they preferred for mayor, or supported one of the other candidates.

Eleven people are running for mayor. Civil Beat polled the three candidates who have held elective office and have significant records of public service.

For now, the clear frontrunner is Djou, a former Republican congressman and City Council member who is backed by Cayetano. The mayoral election is nonpartisan and Djou is running on a platform that calls for reining in spending on the multi-billion-dollar rail line.

“Djou always outperforms his fellow Republicans and he did very well in a heavily Democratic district in earlier races with relatively narrow defeats and one victory,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted the poll for Civil Beat.

Fitch added, “The Republican label has always been a bit of a headwind for him, so it’s not surprising that he runs stronger in a nonpartisan race. In many ways, this is similar to his special election victory for Congress over two Democrats in 2010.”

At this point, Fitch said, Caldwell should not focus on winning the primary but instead on keeping Djou under 50 percent and then “resetting the clock” for the general election.

“Being mayor is a very difficult job, but he’s still fairly popular,” said Fitch. “If Caldwell can get past next Saturday, although the mayor’s race in November will be nonpartisan, he’ll benefit from the presidential election.”

Hawaii has voted Democratic in all but two of the presidential elections since 1972 and Donald Trump could hurt Djou “down ballot” even though Djou has publicly rejected the Republican nominee.

As for whether Caldwell might again be helped in the general election by Carlisle primary supporters, Fitch said, “The data suggest that if Carlisle drops a little more, Caldwell is the slight beneficiary.”

Civil Beat surveyed 851 registered Oahu voters July 25-27. The poll sampled 70 percent landlines and 30 percent cell phones and had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

Honolulu Mayoral candidates left to right, Kirk Caldwell, Peter Carlisle and Charles Djou at the KITV studio. 28 july 2016
Djou may be smiling now, but can he maintain his lead in a general election that features just him and Mayor Caldwell? And who will Carlisle supporters vote for? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Civil Beat Poll addresses other factors in the mayor’s race.

Over half of voters say Oahu is moving in the wrong direction, compared with just one-third who feel the island is on the right path.

The poll also asked voters to rate the importance of certain issues in influencing their decision: rail, ethics, homelessness and cost of living (including affordable housing).

Rail was by far the greatest concern, with nearly three-fourths of people polled calling it “one of the most important” issues.

As widely reported and as acknowledged by the candidates, rail is the top subject in the 2016 campaign.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

In addition to serving nearly four years as mayor, Caldwell is a former managing director of the city who served as acting mayor for a short period in 2010. He also served six years in the state House of Representatives, where he ran as a Democrat.

Carlisle served just over two years as mayor, previously having held the elective office of city prosecutor.

Djou served briefly in the U.S. House of Representatives, was on the City Council for seven years and served one term in the state House.

Coming Thursday: How do Oahu voters feel about rail? Should we build the full route? And how should we pay for it?

Get engaged! Join in the discussion of candidates and issues in the 2016 elections in our new Facebook Group, Civil Beat Politics. Connect with others and learn how to get involved in community issues that are central to this year’s elections.

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