What do the voters of Hawaii think of Gov. David Ige?
A new Civil Beat Poll, conducted in partnership with Hawaii News Now, found that 54% hold a negative opinion of Hawaii’s top elected official. Only 1 in 5 people surveyed see him in a positive light.
Ige’s numbers are in direct contrast to his second-in-command and fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Josh Green. Nearly 70% of voters have a positive opinion of Green, with just 10% holding a negative view.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also gets a grim review by voters. Statewide, he’s seen negatively by 41% of voters. That number rises to 47% on his own island of Oahu.
Caldwell is considering a run for governor in 2022, likely against Green who has been open about his intention to seek the state’s top job when the office comes open.
Another Hawaii leader who comes up short in the eyes of voters is U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, whose 49% negative rating was far worse than that of her three colleagues in Washington. Her positive rating of 28% also lagged far behind positive marks for Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Rep. Ed Case.
The poll, conducted May 18-20, comes more than two months into the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s clear that the government’s COVID-19 effort is swaying public opinion.
“The main takeaway is that it’s really a lot harder to be an executive making decisions right now, and the poll reflects that,” said Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, which conducted the poll.
“Those elected officials who have executive roles are faring worse than those with legislative or advocacy roles.”
Gabbard’s fall is particularly striking.
Four years ago, The Civil Beat Poll reported that 60% of people surveyed said they had a positive opinion of Gabbard. She also won reelection that year and in 2016, and again in 2018, all by lopsided margins. Just two years ago Gabbard’s positive numbers came in at 61%.
But then she ran for president, spending much of 2019 and 2020 campaigning on the mainland before dropping out in March, having won just two delegates. She has said she is not seeking a fifth term in the House.
“She’s not running for office and there is a sense that she has moved on from Hawaii,” said Fitch.
But Green is on an upward trajectory.
“His approval ratings are almost like the profile of the early days of how you win a Democratic primary,” said Fitch. “He is already running and quite likely against Kirk Caldwell. But Green is in an advocacy position and Caldwell is making executive decisions. Green’s favorability is eye-popping.”
Civil Beat surveyed 1,533 registered voters statewide using a combination of interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling) and a survey administered online.
The results were weighted to reflect a mix of 50% landlines and 50% cell phones. Cells phones contacted via text were routed to the online survey. The overall margin of error is 2.5 percentage points.
Ige is midway through his second and final term as governor, and he handily won reelection just two years ago. But many of the voters Civil Beat spoke with are looking at the governor through a COVID-19 lens and they give him poor marks. (We’ll address more fully how voters feel about the government’s virus-response effort in Wednesday’s poll stories.)
“Speaking generally, it’s because there is a lack of information and action from him,” said June Hart, a retired chemist who lives in Aiea and had a negative view of the governor. “COVID is at the center of this. My husband and I are faithful watchers of (New York Gov. Andrew) Cuomo every day, and he shows what a governor should be doing.”
Hart praises Cuomo for being open and structured and giving the strong impression that he is transparent and in control.
Hart does admire Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, however.
“I have the feeling that if Josh Green were governor, things would be different,” she said. ”My first indication of that was when Ige wanted to remove him from his press conferences. What does that tell you? I mean, come on. My word!”
Hart said she will give Green a serious look if he runs for governor in 2022, saying that he has the aura of gravitas and authenticity.
Carol Beardsley, retired in Kapaa on Kauai, expresses similar discomfort with Ige’s response to the pandemic.
“Prior to that he seemed to be OK. I think he is probably handling it as well as he can, though he was a little late on the uptake that it was serious,” she said. “Watching his briefings, it doesn’t seem that he is knowledgeable, and he seemed extremely stubborn to what Josh Green was saying.”
Beardsley credits Green for “having the guts to get up there and not agree with the governor, saying that we should have a strong response and really increase testing and what not.”
But Green has his detractors, too.
“It is apparent that he is using this as a platform into the governorship,” said Judy Kim-Sugita, a business owner in Kakaako.
“I get it — he’s a doctor. But he is called to be the lieutenant governor and it is a partnership. I thank him for data and reports, but he is doing that every single day with his white board. In the face of an emergency you have to come together and figure things out.”
As for Caldwell, the mayor irks Kim-Sugita in two ways: for treating the homeless as “trash” and as “subhuman,” and for closing some businesses without considering the economic and social consequences.
Those business include her car wash, The Car Parlor on Kapiolani Boulevard. Kim-Sugita said her company was in compliance with city rules “in terms of sanitizing and so forth” but was forced to close for three weeks.
She was also upset that Caldwell appeared to show “a tone of defiance” when he said he disagreed with Ige’s demand that county mayors get permission before taking COVID-19-related actions.
“It is better to collaborate and communicate with one voice to lessen the confusion and the fear,” she said, a sentiment that was echoed by several poll respondents.
“It seems like they just can’t get it together,” said Patricia Dupuis, a residential property management who lives in Palolo. “The governor, all the mayors — we are getting inconsistent information. ‘What’s open, what’s closed.’ I just wish they would get it together.”
Dupuis said she is also “really sick of staying home for 10 weeks” as are many of her family and friends, many of them like her in their 70s.
“I am not willing to give up on them yet,” she said of her loved ones.
As for the economy, Dupuis said she knows firsthand what’s happening because of her work in property management.
“It is taking a dive,” she said. “It will take a really long time to get back on track, and a lot of people will leave Hawaii.”
In the fall of 2018, Sen. Hirono was making national headlines for her opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S Supreme Court. A Civil Beat Poll in October of that year showed her approval rating was 58% positive while 31% of survey participants had a negative view of the Hawaii senator.
Now, Hirono’s positive numbers have dropped to 43% with a 35% negative rating and 22% saying they’re just not sure.
Schatz does better than Hirono in the current poll: He is viewed positively by 49% and negatively by just 22%. Nearly 30% say they’re not sure how they feel about Schatz. Still, his positive marks dropped 5 percentage points from 2018.
Neither Schatz nor Hirono is up for reelection this year.
Case, who took a plurality of the votes (38.7%) in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 1 two years ago but easily prevailed in the general election, has a 39% positive rating and an 18% negative rating.
But 43% of voters survey are unsure how they feel about Case, who thus far faces no serious opponent in his reelection bid this year.
Coming Wednesday: We asked voters how they feel about Hawaii’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
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