Former television executive Rick Blangiardi has a solid edge over his opponents in the race to be the next mayor of Honolulu.

Twenty-seven percent of Oahu voters surveyed in the latest Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll favor Blangiardi. He leads former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and businessman Keith Amemiya, who are tied at 15% each.

But because a candidate must take more than 50% of the vote to win the mayor’s race outright on Saturday, it is almost certain there will be a runoff on Nov. 3 between Blangiardi and either Hanabusa or Amemiya.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Kym Pine is at 12%, and with a margin of error of 3.5% she is still in the hunt.

A majority of the 660 registered Oahu voters — 55% — said they are looking for a new mayor that will bring a “fresh approach” to governing. Only 26% said governing experience was more important.

That may help explain the support for Blangiardi and Amemiya, who have never run for office before and who are both advertising heavily on television. A fifth major candidate, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, polled at just 8%.

The latest poll, which was conducted July 27-30, also shows more voters are making up their minds as election day nears.

A total of 42% of those polled in May were either unsure of who they would vote for or did not prefer any of the top candidates. Now, that combined figure is half  — 21% — of what it was.

At the time of the May poll, Hannemann had not yet entered the race. Blangiardi had 21% of the vote at that time, Hanabusa 15%, Amemiya 10% and Pine 9%.

There are 15 candidates seeking to be Honolulu’s next mayor, including pastor and former legislator Bud Stonebraker, attorney and former legislator John Carroll and real estate agent and community activist Choon James.

Many People Already Voted

Civil Beat conducted the poll with MRG Research using a combination of interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling) and a survey administered online.

The touch-tone version was conducted by contacting landline telephones. The online version was conducted by texting cellphones and linking poll participants to an online survey optimized for smartphones.

The new poll comes as many registered voters have already mailed in their ballot, and there are indications that turnout might increase from past elections.

As of Saturday, according to the Honolulu Elections Division, 142,625 ballots had been received out of 457,766 sent to voters. Another 556 people had used the two voter service centers on Oahu.

There are 525,153 people registered to vote on Oahu, but that total includes voters who have not yet been purged from voter rolls although they might have moved or died.

Honolulu Mayoral Candidate Rick Blangiardi.
Honolulu mayoral candidate Rick Blangiardi leads a crowded field. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

In the 2016 primary — the last time there was a Honolulu mayoral contest — 169,531 cast ballots out of 483,076 registered voters — about 35%.

Count Tara Buckley among Oahu voters very likely to vote this week, and for Blangiardi.

“I’ve been feeling over the last couple of years that we are kind of doing the same thing over and over again,” said Buckley, an attorney who lives in Kaimuki. “I feel like we need a fresh perspective, someone who is not beholden to political alliances and things like that.”

Keith Amemiya, 2020 Honolulu Mayoral candidate.
Keith Amemiya is tied with Colleen Hanabusa for second place in the latest poll. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Buckley was working at a nonprofit when she first met Blangiardi, then the general manager of Hawaii News Now, KGMB and KHNL television stations.

“He helped us pretty significantly in terms of getting us access to news and commercials,” she recalled. “I really liked his personality. He is very straight-forward, very smart, very business-savvy. And he seemed to work well with everybody even if he didn’t like them — that’s very important in politics.”

Buckley is not bothered by Blangiardi’s lack of government experience, arguing that he is a good manager and that those skills are “transferable” from TV to Honolulu Hale.

For Jonathan Schwartz, however, experience means everything, which is why he’s voting for Hanabusa.

“To be completely blunt, the national scene has turned me off to a new way of doing things,” said Schwarz, a University of Hawaii West Oahu professor who lives in Manoa. “I’ve seen what a lack of experience can produce.”


Schwarz said he was familiar with Hanabusa’s reputation in Congress and in the Hawaii state Senate.

But Gordon Au, a Realtor and independent contractor in Kahala, said he’s tired of seeing the same politicians year after year.

Colleen Hanabusa mayoral candidate.
Some voters are choosing experience over fresh approach and support Colleen Hanabusa. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“Let me go down the list,” he said. “Mufi got us in trouble with the stupid rail, and one day Hawaii is going to wake up and realize how much it’s going to cost us. Hanabusa, I just don’t trust that lady. She’s too tied to big labor. Pine, her only claim to fame is the City Council, but what has she done? Nothing.”

Au is backing Amemiya, who does not represent “more of the same.”

“Candidly, he’s related to lot of people working for the city now, and it would be an easy, smooth transition, especially because of COVID.”

Au’s second preference is Blangiardi, primarily because he is an outsider when it comes to government. Like a majority of those polled, Au thinks a “fresh approach” is what’s needed at Honolulu Hale.

Voters were also asked about Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who is completing his second and final term of office.

He is viewed positively by 36% of those surveyed and negatively by 38%. That’s an improvement from May, when Caldwell’s positive number was 28% and his negative was 41%.

While Blangiardi has been the frontrunner in the race, Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, said a two-way race in the general election could be far closer than the primary.

Fitch was surprised voters favored a fresh approach over government experience.

“It was not what I expected,” he said. “Hawaii has for some time now had a meritocracy — who is next and so forth — and that would have suggested Hanabusa would be performing better right now. It’s hard to say what is driving voters right now, but there does seem some resistance with the status quo.”

Read the full results of Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll here:

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