One prominent narrative this election season has been how deeply divided America is, an idea often validated through the example of the presidential race or other political contests where a left vs. right comparison is stark.

But The Civil Beat Poll indicates those divisions may not be nearly as deep in Honolulu as they are around the rest of the country. In fact, strong majorities of local residents are in surprising consensus on some key issues related to the leadership of the nation and quality of life on Oahu.

Conducted Oct. 10-13 by the Merriman River Group, the survey included a sample of 832 registered voters on Oahu and a margin of error of 3.4 percent. Consider some of its top line results:

HART Cantilevered railway at the H1/H2 freeway merge. 18 may 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Honolulu rail project was one of several controversial areas where respondents to the Civil Beat poll were in significant agreement on a preferred way forward.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

We don’t mistake that sort of agreement for overall contentedness. Below the top line, for instance, there’s plenty of indication that voters aren’t happy about what it might take to fulfill their wishes relative to rail.

Electoral divisions may not be nearly as deep in Honolulu as they are around the rest of the country.

And it’s probably safe to assume residents aren’t overjoyed about potentially euthanizing hundreds of thousands of free-roaming cats (our comments sections is a testament to that). But when forced to choose between swelling cat colonies and potential harm to threatened species like the Hawaiian monk seal, it’s not a close call for the poll respondents.

Clinton’s emergence as Oahu’s dominant choice for president may not please some who helped the Democratic Party presidential preference vote break sharply for Sen. Bernie Sanders back in the spring and the Republican caucus hand Trump a fairly emphatic 43 percent win.

But not if you’re familiar with Hawaii electoral history. In 14 presidential votes since Hawaii became a state, it has chosen Republicans only twice — 1972 and 1984 (though John F. Kennedy’s 1960 win by 115 votes was extremely slim).

Clinton’s big edge is probably owed just as much to Hawaii’s deeply blue nature — and revulsion to Trump, according to our pollsters — as her popularity. After all, there is a significant chance that our state Senate will be entirely Democrat after Nov. 8, if challenger Stanley Chang defeats Sen. Sam Slom, the body’s only Republican.

The only place where opinions seems authentically split is in the Honolulu mayoral race, where incumbent Kirk Caldwell held a seven-point lead over former Congressman Charles Djou. That race might be closer, were it not for down-ballot drag from Trump for Djou, a fellow Republican.

Policymakers can glean some meaningful takeaways from all this.

  • Our points of agreement may be bigger and more ready to operationalize than we sometimes think. Conflict drives the news cycle, but compromise is the elixir that makes government work, and we see evidence that Honolulu voters are ready to give a few inches in exchange for advancing overall goals. That’s an idea that seems to have evaporated in the overall political environment, much to our national detriment.
  • Even on complex and emotionally charged issues, it’s possible in Honolulu to divine a way forward. When voters express clear majority preferences when faced with difficult challenges like rail and free-roaming cats, it reminds us that finding the right path often depends on proper framing for the issue and potential solution. Listening to voters is an art that shouldn’t be practiced only in election season, but rather an opportunity that elected officials and other leaders should avail themselves of often.

Once the fall elections have concluded, even more complicated issues will require attention from elected officials. In matters such as homelessness and Hawaii’s high cost of living, the difficulty factor is higher and the contours of solutions aren’t nearly as defined.

The Civil Beat Poll reveals a local electorate that is ready to support practical solutions, even on tough calls. For candidates running for election or for re-election, that’s a solid starting point for service that will make a difference for Honolulu.

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