When Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now last surveyed registered voters statewide about COVID-19, more than two-thirds said they strongly supported stay-at-home orders and the 14-day quarantine for arrivals.
That was in mid-May, when coronavirus cases numbered around 640 in the islands, 17 deaths had been reported and Gov. David Ige unveiled a four-phase plan for reopening Hawaii’s economy.
There was cautious optimism that the islands had “flattened the curve” and that life could begin to return to some sense of normalcy.
Three months later, on Tuesday, Hawaii reported 2,591 cases and the 27th death. Health officials declared the coronavirus was now “entrenched” on Oahu as Ige warned that new restrictions might be necessary to guard against further spread.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that a majority of voters in a new poll said they were not satisfied with state plans to reopen public schools — 54% — and the visitor industry — 56%. Schools are currently set to go back on Aug. 17 and the state’s 14-day travel quarantine could be lifted sometime after Sept. 1.
Meanwhile, three-fourths of voters continue to support local stay-at-home guidelines and quarantine orders, which could be seen as a vote of confidence if the governor and mayors issue restrictions such as closing some businesses, extending the quarantine and cracking down on beach use and other public gatherings.
“People surveyed in May were happy with what state and county governments did to respond to the pandemic, but the latest poll shows they are now running out of patience,” said Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, which helped conduct the poll.
“What Hawaii did seemed to be working, but now it’s not working in Hawaii or anywhere else in the U.S.”
The latest poll also shows that former Vice President Joe Biden is viewed far more positively than President Donald Trump in the islands. Biden, a Democrat, enjoys a 51% positive rating compared to just 30% for Trump, a Republican.
When asked who they might vote for, 56% said they would pick Biden while 29% chose Trump. Those numbers are nearly identical to what Hawaii voters said four years ago when asked about Trump and Hillary Clinton.
The dislike of Trump is broad across most demographic groups such as gender, age, income, ancestry and geography. One major exception: political ideology. Of Republicans, 81% have a positive view of Trump, while 86% of Democrats view him negatively.
“There is no drama for Hawaii’s four electoral votes whatsoever,” said Fitch.
The new poll, conducted July 27-30, surveyed 975 registered voters in Hawaii. The margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.
MRG Research used a combination of interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling) and an online survey. The touch-tone version was conducted via landlines, while the online version was conducted by texting cellphones and linking participants to an online survey designed for smartphones.
The polls on COVID-19 and the presidential election reveal a pattern: Biden supporters tend to be less satisfied with the state’s position on reopening schools and tourism, while Trump supporters were less bothered.
The president, of course, has long downplayed the seriousness of the virus and urged states to allow for businesses to return in full. He says the virus is under control. Biden has been far more cautious, arguing in essence that health must come before money, and that the federal government must help Americans get through the twin crises.
Interviews with voters who took the Civil Beat/HNN survey seem to bear that out.
Charmaine Kamaka, a retired Hawaii County worker in Hilo, laughed when asked why she was supporting Biden.
“Are you kidding me? To save the world! To save the planet! Literally, to restore the reputation of the world.”
Kamaka, who had just watched a Trump COVID-19 press conference on MSNBC — MSNBC is on at all times and on multiple televisions in the Kamaka household — accuses the president of destroying lives and turning citizens against one another.
“I think Trump has punished blue states and he will continue to do so,” she said. “I am afraid of what he is going to do between now and the election, sowing dissent.”
Unlike Trump and many Republicans, Kamaka takes the coronavirus very seriously.
“I am scared,” she said. “My husband and I are over 60 — he is over 70 — and we wear the masks, wash our hands, are socially distant. I miss my friends and family, but I don’t let them come over.”
Kamaka does not want the state to reopen fully to tourism, in part because she has concerns about the availability of COVID-19 testing and turnaround time. She is similarly skeptical that contact tracing is being conducted to the fullest extent desirable.
“I think the governor is doing the best he can under the circumstances,” she said, adding that the quarantine and stay-at-home orders have been painful but essential.
But Radford Sagarang, the CFO of a research company who lives in Pearl City, likes Trump.
“When I first heard of him, I knew he was a businessman, and everything he has done has pretty much succeeded amazingly, even with all the backlash from Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “What we needed was a businessman — I am one — and I can see what he is doing. He wants results, and I like that. He’s not just a politician who says good things and doesn’t actually produce.”
Sagarang’s approval of Trump includes his handling of the pandemic. It includes his advocacy of taking hydroxychloroquine, though many medical professionals advise against it.
“We got to get Ige to approve it — it’s been proven successful,” he said, pointing to a recent Glenn Beck television program that featured a doctor and lawyer vouching for its efficacy. “We could get a lot of local people back to work. But they don’t want to do it because Trump said it.”
Sagarang understands concerns about COVID-19 cases increasing locally should travel restrictions be eased. But he believes tourism is an essential part of the economy.
“I am an accountant — I know my business, and it’s very tough out there,” he said. “Especially restaurants, they are failing.”
Sagarang likes the idea of easing Japanese tourists back into the islands. After all, the state needs the tax revenues from visitors to take care of its own people.
As for reopening schools, he wants teachers to be protected (his daughter teaches second grade at a private school), but he thinks the chances of kids getting sick are very low.
Van Smith, who works for the Department of Education, disagrees.
As a special education teacher, he says he really misses his students after three months of no school. But he is also certain that, once students see each other back in school, they will quickly mingle and throw caution to the wind.
“All it takes is just one child,” said Smith. “I am worried about the health of my 91-year-old father-in-law and my mother, who is a cancer survivor in her 80s. I just turned 60, and I do errands for them during the week, and I worry that I could catch it and be asymptomatic, and then they are out, I have lost them.”
As for Trump, Smith — a lifelong Democrat — rejects the notion that the president is a good businessman.
“I have a saying I learned 30 years ago when I got married — ’til death do us part,” he said. “Compare that to Trump who has been married three times and has left a trail of broken hearts. And that is how he has run the country.”
Smith concludes on a positive note, one informed by his view that Hawaii has largely responded correctly to the pandemic.
“I am a good American, and we will all get through this,” he said. “There will be a lot more loss of life and it will also get worse in Hawaii. We will see a darker hour before it turns sunny.”
Read the full results of Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now polls below along with details about the demographics of those surveyed:
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