Ads attacking candidates for governor and Honolulu City Council have been saturating local television and jamming mail boxes for the past week.
The latest barrage of negative political messaging largely began just after we’d wrapped up calling voters for our latest poll. More than 1,000 people took our survey before they were inundated with accusations of failure, wrongdoing and grandstanding.
Politicians — and their supporters or opponents — are spending millions of dollars in the last few weeks before the Aug. 11 primary to sway voters. And frankly, we wondered if that would mean our poll results were changing before we even had a chance to publish them.
So the Civil Beat staff has spent the past few days doing a different sort of poll — calling people who took our survey July 19-21 to see if the ads had any effect on how they planned to vote.
Their answer? Overwhelmingly no.
It turned out that 173 of the folks who took our poll said we could give them a follow-up call and talk about the election. You’ll see some of their comments on the candidates in our stories on the races for governor, lieutenant governor and Congress.
We actually called all 173 and managed to talk to 98. Of those, 68 people said they have seen the recent ads.
Not a single person said an attack ad had changed their mind or given them any new information that would help them choose a candidate.
In fact only nine people out of 98 said any advertising, even general messaging, has had any impact on who they are voting for this year.
“I’m opposed to attack ads in general,” said Tim Beneski of Honokaa. “They really turn me off. I want to know why I should vote for someone, not why I shouldn’t vote for anyone else.”
Beneski is a Democrat who favors Gov. David Ige.
Carl Wong of Waipahu is a Republican. He said he still wasn’t sure who he’d vote for in the governor’s race.
“The attack ads on the Democratic side, they’re beating themselves to death,” said Wong. “They’re eating on their own party. It’s just a feeding frenzy that they have and it’s sad.”
“They spend more time grumbling instead of fixing the ills of the country and the island,” he added.
For most undecideds like Wong — the group you’d think would be most likely swayed by negative advertising — the ads have done nothing to change their minds. The undecideds we reached late last week were mostly still undecided although a couple said they had settled on Ige and one said he was now firm on Colleen Hanabusa, the congresswoman who is trying to unseat the governor.
Most of the negative ads have attacked Ige, largely because a super PAC is spending several hundred thousand dollars to defeat him.
“I don’t like attack ads,” said Margaret Brandt of Kula, who described herself as a conservative Democrat who is leaning toward Ige. “I’m a voter that likes to hear positive, and to hear something negative I don’t like it. I mean there’s no reason for it. We need to have a chance to hear what the candidates have to offer.”
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 808-377-0561.