State Sen. Josh Green has opened a big lead in the race for lieutenant governor with the Aug. 11 Democratic primary looming.

With 31 percent of likely Democratic primary voters saying they would vote for the Big Island senator, Green was well ahead of the rest of the five-candidate field, according to a Civil Beat poll.

Oahu Sen. Jill Tokuda was a distant second, with 17 percent.

Lagging Green and Tokuda were Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., with 13 percent, former Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto, with 10 percent, and state Sen. Will Espero, with 5 percent. About 25 percent of those polled were undecided.

It was dramatic turnaround from a Civil Beat poll conducted in May. That survey had Carvalho in front, with 19 percent, and Green second with 16 percent.

It all comes down to familiarity, said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which conducted the polls.

“Name recognition is key,” Fitch said. “And it shows that Green, who has been working on social media relentlessly, has really picked up his name recognition.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Green has the most financial support. Be Change Now, a super PAC funded by Hawaii’s largest construction union, has dumped about $550,000 into the race on his behalf.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the amount from Be Change Now as $242,000; that was an outdated number.

The lieutenant governor’s contest has been eclipsed by a heated race for governor between incumbent Gov. David Ige and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Fitch said, as well as a race to fill the congressional seat Hanabusa is vacating. With so much attention on those races, voters haven’t focused much attention on the lieutenant governor contest.

“It’s not a race that’s gotten a lot of oxygen,” Fitch said.

Negative campaign ads don’t seem to have had nearly the impact of social media, Fitch said, an observation borne out by Civil Beat’s follow-up interviews with people who were polled.

Gubernatorial Candidate Josh Green speaks during the 2018 Democratic Party Convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa Resort in Kona, Hawaii.
State Sen. Josh Green has strong support from Democrats who preferred U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The yawning gap between Green and Tokuda might be partly explained by Green’s popularity among voters who supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election, Fitch said. Green had a 25 percentage point lead over Tokuda among people who said they had supported Sanders; 35 percent of such voters supported Green while just 10 percent supported Tokuda.

That level of support among Sanders fans is a difference maker, Fitch said. The Vermont senator was the overwhelming choice of Hawaii’s Democrats in a March 2016 presidential preference poll, getting 70 percent of the support among Democrats compared to 30 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Tokuda, the former Senate Ways and Means Committee chair whose Oahu district encompasses Kaneohe and Kailua, scored points among voters for her perceived willingness to take stands that were unpopular among other politicians.

“She was the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and controlled the funds, and they got rid of her,” said Richard Nagahiro, 62, of Hawaii Kai. “It shows me she’s independent and is not going to follow status quo.”

“I think that it would be great to have a woman in there,” said Matthew Choy, 29, of downtown Honolulu. “I get the sense that she works hard and seeks to make decisions based on research and input — all-around a good kind of politician that works hard.”

Lieutenant Governor Candidate Jill Tokuda Dem Party Convention Kona.
Despite her reputation as an independent voice in the Legislature, Sen. Jill Tokuda was trailing her Senate colleague Josh Green by 14 percentage points. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Iwamoto’s progressive stances made her the favorite of Estella Berg of Hawaii Kai.

“I like her progressive stances on most of the issues,” Berg said. “I’m looking for the most progressive candidate.”

And Jerry Dupont, 79, of Kaneohe, said he likes Espero’s “spunk.”

“I’ve watched him in action,” Dupont said. “I think over the years he’s been very willing to take on somewhat unpopular causes, and I like his spunk.”

Still, Green held a lead in almost every major category. He was more popular on Kauai than the island’s mayor, and he edged out Tokuda on Oahu. He also had clear leads among the two largest ethnic groups – Caucasian and Japanese voters – as well as the Filipino, Hawaiian and Chinese demographic.

“Josh has been very, very active on the Big Island,” said poll respondent Maggie Gerber, 62, of Holualoa. “He strikes me as sincere. He doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for the good boy politician look. Rather than sitting in an office, he goes out and actually sees what’s going on.”

The telephone poll, conducted July 19-21, surveyed 871 likely voters in the Democratic primary. The sample consisted of 70 percent landlines and 30 percent cellphones. Results were balanced for gender, age, ancestry/ethnicity/race, county and congressional district of residence, as well as education level. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

Civil Beat also polled 219 likely voters in the Republican primary to glean their preferences among the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. Some 26 percent said they favored Marissa Kerns, a Waianae business owner, while 20 percent said they favored Jeremy Low, a research analyst.

A third GOP candidate, Steve Lipscomb, was not included in the poll.

That survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 6.6 percent.

See the full poll results below.

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