Ige surges ahead of Abercrombie

See why teachers are voting for David Ige



Ige surges ahead of Abercrombie

By Derrick DePledge

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 03, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 01:33 a.m. HST, Aug 03, 2014

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is in grave risk of losing to state Sen. David Ige in the Democratic primary, according to a new Hawaii Poll that shows the governor’s job approval and favorability sinking among voters.

Ige, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, holds a 54 percent to 36 percent lead over Abercrombie with 11 percent undecided.

No governor has lost re-election since William Quinn, a Republican, in 1962, so Ige could be on the cusp of a historic upset on Saturday.

Forty-six percent of voters who said they were voting for Ige were doing so primarily because they do not like the governor, a sobering verdict for the incumbent.

Abercrombie’s job approval was at 38 percent, compared to 43 percent in the last Hawaii Poll in February. His favorability was at 38 percent, down from 45 percent in February.

“The governor’s had difficulty almost since he started four years ago — or three and a half years ago — with his job approval ratings never making it past 50 percent,” said Rebecca Ward, president of Ward Research Inc., which conducted the Hawaii Poll for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now. “So we’ve seen him in trouble all along.”

The Hawaii Poll suggests the primary is more a reflection of Abercrombie’s unpopularity than Ige’s impact.

“I think at this point what we’ve seen is someone come from very low recognition — David Ige, with very low name recognition — and pretty much just spiral up,” Ward said. “I’ve felt like it’s a vote against Abercrombie. I said that in February and it looks that way now in everything we see in the poll.”

Former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, a Republican who lost to Abercrombie in 2010, led both Abercrombie and Ige in potential November general election matchups. Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who lost to Abercrombie in the primary in 2010 and is now running under the new Hawaii Independent Party banner, was a distant third.

“I think we need change,” said Harry Morck, a construction painter who lives in Salt Lake and backs Ige.

Frederick Reis, a former custodian who lives in Kalihi, said he voted for Abercrombie four years ago but is looking elsewhere in the primary. He said he remembers the unhappy public school teachers who were staging a sit-in at Washington Place in 2013 during contract negotiations.

“They wanted a fair shake, and he never gave them a fair shake,” Reis said. “That’s not how a politician is supposed to act. You’re supposed to help the people. I want a politician that’s going to talk straight and then help the people.”

Many Abercrombie loyalists are frustrated that voters appear to be judging the governor based on their disappointment with his personality and leadership style rather than his performance. For example, while Abercrombie imposed a contract on teachers in 2011 that included pay cuts — the same as other public-sector workers — a new contract negotiated in 2013 — the year of the sit-in at Washington Place — restored the pay cuts and granted teachers pay raises and a reduced share of health insurance premiums.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association endorsed Ige, however, and the teachers union has purchased television advertisements that bash Abercrombie.

David Ige with HSTA President Wil Okabe

Forty percent of voters who said they favor Abercrombie cited his leadership experience.

Terryl Leong, a city parks worker who lives in Manoa, said her impression is that Abercrombie has done well for the state’s economy, although she is concerned about his administration’s support for residential development on agricultural land. She described herself as a “child of the ‘60s kind of a person” and remembers that Abercrombie was out demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

“There’s part of me that wants to just give him more time to do what he’s set up to do,” she said.

The Hawaii Poll in the Democratic primary for governor was taken by phone from July 21 to 29 among 458 likely primary voters statewide. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

The hypothetical November general election matchups and job approval and favorability interviews were conducted among 612 likely primary voters statewide. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Abercrombie had led Ige 47 percent to 38 percent in the last Hawaii Poll in February, a nine-point gap that was surprising at the time because most voters were still unfamiliar with the state senator. Ige, according to the new poll, holds a stunning 18-point advantage.

Twenty-eight percent of voters said they had never heard of or did not know enough about Ige, down from 61 percent in February. Fifty-seven percent view Ige favorably, up from 30 percent in February.

The new poll found Ige dominant on Oahu, where he is up over Abercrombie 61 percent to 30 percent, but trailing Abercrombie 46 percent to 39 percent on the neighbor islands, where Ige is less known.

The split among traditional Democratic voters is tighter than the broader sample, with Ige up 51 percent to 40 percent. But Ige does far better than Abercrombie in union households — 58 percent to 34 percent — an important constituency in Democratic primaries.

Ominously for Abercrombie, his job approval rating was below 50 percent even among traditional Democrats — 48 percent — and was at 34 percent in union households.

Ige, who grew up in Pearl City and whose father, Tokio, was part of the famed 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, performed particularly well with Japanese-American voters, where he is up over the governor 62 percent to 28 percent. Yet Ige is nearly sharing the vote with Abercrombie among white voters, where the governor leads 49 percent to 47 percent.

“I can tell you that there’s been a definite shift in the momentum in the last four weeks,” Ige said. “You can kind of see it in virtually every phase of the campaign.”

William Kaneko, Abercrombie’s campaign manager, said the primary is still winnable.

“Our internal poll numbers indicate this race is dead even,” he said in a statement. “Our grass-roots efforts are surging, with key endorsements from President (Barack) Obama, Mayor (Kirk) Caldwell and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The governor is humbled by the level of support he has received to continue for another term.”

The upheaval among Democrats has already helped Aiona. The Republican’s favorability is at 63 percent, the highest of any candidate tested in the poll, up from 58 percent in February. Fifty-one percent of traditional Democrats view him positively.

“I think the public just has had enough,” Aiona said, referring to the federal, state and county levels of government. “I really believe that they’re just kind of fed up with the elected officials.”

Aiona said many voters “feel like their voice is not being heard,” adding, “They’re not being treated with respect.”

Hannemann, whose favorability was at 39 percent, down from 45 percent in February, said poll numbers for the November general election would not mean much until after the Democratic primary.

“Our strategy all along was to wait until the general election,” he said in an email. “We were the last to officially announce, have not done any TV or radio advertising and have not participated in any debates.

“Once we begin campaigning in earnest after the primary, we believe our numbers will move.”


Staff writer Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this report.


Abercrombie braces for astounding fall from grace

By Richard Borreca

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 03, 2014

For Gov. Neil Abercrombie, his looming defeat in the Aug. 9 Democratic primary would be historic; for state Sen. David Ige, his selection as the Democrats’ candidate for the November general election would be nothing short of miraculous.

Today’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll shows Abercrombie losing to Ige by 18 percentage points, with a margin or error of 4.6 percentage points. It was conducted by Ward Research.

Most telling is Abercrombie’s job performance rating: 56 percent of the voters surveyed disapprove of the 76-year-old Manoa Democrat.

For someone who has served in political office for 40 years, including 20 in Congress, it portends an astounding fall.

If the poll numbers are correct, Abercrombie will be the first governor in Hawaii history to be voted out of office in a primary election. That sort of a loss is especially telling because the primary voters are just the Democrats who originally put Abercrombie into office.

A veteran legislator who has watched Abercrombie for years says the governor created his own political problems.

“He has a bipolar relationship with the voters,” said the lawmaker, who asked not to be identified.

“One minute he can empathize with you and knows your concerns, and the next minute he can’t remember your name,” the Democrat said.

A politician’s relationship with the constituents is a delicate business.

Four years ago, Abercrombie handily beat former Mayor Mufi Hannemann with a highly efficient and disciplined campaign that appealed to liberals, environmentalists, older voters and teachers.

After winning office, Abercrombie almost systematically sought to destroy his relationship with each voting group.

If the key voters in a Democratic primary are those looking to control development and encourage planned growth, those who want new energy regulation, educators looking for more support and pay, and seniors looking to balance their own budget, Abercrombie inflamed them all.

My Senate source, who was originally an Abercrombie ally, compared the governor’s problems to a failed marriage.

“It is like Neil and the voters buy a house together and then the pressures start and the voters are saying they don’t even recognize him anymore.

“There is no aloha left in this marriage.”

Rebecca Ward, president of Ward Research, said she doubts there is anything Abercrombie can do in the next week to cause him to win.

“Some of the decisions made early in his governorship caused his slip in job performance ratings,” Ward said.

“I don’t see how an early or a better campaign could turn around this freight train.”

Meanwhile, the late-starting, underfunded and sometimes naive campaign of Ige has taken off and put the 57-year-old Pearl City Democrat in place to fight it out with Hannemann, who is running as an independent, and Republicans James “Duke” Aiona in the general election.

Abercrombie has raised $5 million and spent $4.7 million. In contrast, Ige has raised and spent about $500,000.

The power of incumbency, the staggering money already raised and spent by Abercrombie, and his own skills as a public speaker all fail in the face of voters who have already made up their minds.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Voters: What are they thinking?

Demographic changes make it tricky to predict how people will vote

By Vicki Viotti

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 03, 2014


The voting-booth curtain that preserves the secrecy of the secret ballot hasn’t become any thicker or impenetrable, but it’s harder than ever this time to picture the person behind it. Politics watchers and those working actively behind the scenes acknowledge that a lot of the assumptions about island voting habits are changing, but nobody knows by how much.

They’ll know a lot more after Aug. 9, Primary Election Day, but that will be too late for many candidates and their operatives, especially in the hotly contested Democratic races.

So a lot of people in the past few months have placed their bets on various theories about who the likely voters will be and how to reach them, all the while admitting they’re standing in the midst of a changing landscape and can’t be sure. They can’t see the forest for the trees.

Operatives were somewhat hesitant to talk on the record in mid-election, but academics and statisticians were happy to share. The race they’re watching most closely is the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The race boils down to the current seat holder, Brian Schatz, facing Colleen Hanabusa. Congresswoman Hanabusa is seen as the one the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye had favored. For decades, he was the standard-bearer for the Americans of Japanese ancestry who led the Democratic Party.

“If she wins, that’s the status quo, but if she does poorly, that might signal the end of the old AJA machine,” said Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science professor.

What lies behind that prognostication, which is pretty common among the experts this election cycle? One element is the changing demographic makeup of the population. Census data from 2010 indicate a growth of Hawaii’s mixed-race sector, said Eugene Tian, economic research administrator at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“For the mixed population, we are No. 1 in the nation,” Tian said. He was talking about the finding from the 2010 Census, that 23.6 percent of the Hawaii population, almost 1 in 4 people, identify themselves with two or more races. That’s up, if only slightly, from the 21.4 percent in 2000.

Other trends Tian is seeing include a rise in the proportion of Caucasians, from 24.3 percent to 24.7, and a significant drop in those identifying as Japanese, from 16.7 percent to 13.6 percent.

Finally, there’s age.

“In Hawaii, the population is getting older,” he said. “Our percentage of 14.5 percent 65 and older makes this state 12th oldest in the nation.”

These broad changes are being projected onto the electorate in various ways. Hawaii’s senior population is growing and seniors are by far the most reliable voters, according to 2012 Hawaii voter data available on Census.gov—two-thirds of those in the 60-plus age bracket vote here. By contrast, of those age 18-29, only 31 percent cast a ballot here in the last election; a larger proportion, 38 percent, were not even registered.

So one easy conclusion drawn by politicians and their handlers is that messaging to older voters is key.

Neal Milner, professor emeritus of political science at UH, sees this in many TV commercials that address Hawaii’s kupuna generation, with candidates sidling up to elders.

“I think people like me should start a rent-a-kupuna operation, to supplement my Social Security,” he quipped.

Over the past few decades, Moore said, changes have left a distinct imprint on who’s expected to turn up at the primary election polls.

“The word basically is Japanese-Americans vote at the highest rates, then white people, then moving on down, depending on how long you’ve lived here in the U.S. Immigrants vote in really low rates,” he added.

Although the most reliable voters can still be described as “old, white and AJAs,” Moore said, “the old AJA identity has started to disappear. Ethnic voting among these groups that turn out in large numbers, that’s on the decline.”

Most agree that ethnic voting, while still a significant factor, has been mitigated by intermarriage and simply the distance time has placed between descendants and the immigrant experience that shaped identity and values.

Milner thinks most of the Census changes are too marginal to create any major electoral shifts, especially along partisan lines.

“Demographics are not changing that dramatically here,” Milner said. “You certainly don’t have a politically significant increase in any ethnic group.

“It’s hard to see any political significance,” he added. “Whatever the demographics are, this is still one of the most partisan Democratic states in the U.S.”

However, one Democratic Party consultant said privately that internal polling suggests the primary electorate, for whatever reason, is becoming more driven by issues: Voters casting ballots in the Democratic Party are trending left.

Others confirm observations of that liberal lean among the most motivated Democrats, including operatives within the opposing party. Republican consultant Dylan Nonaka said the result is the nomination of Democrats who are more left-leaning than the broader voter base. This, he said, creates an idealogical gap that the GOP can exploit, pulling at voters who are less bound to party labels, especially since the historical divides between labor and business at the rise of the Hawaii Democrats have become fuzzy with the passage of time.

“Democrats win in Hawaii because of culture,” Nonaka added. “They have been taught over the years to vote for Democrats for reasons that don’t exist anymore.”

How do campaigns try to seize blocs of these voters in transition? The answer seems to be: Use every tool in the toolkit.

In a state where humble grassroots campaign methods have become part of its political brand—such as Hawaii’s iconic sign-waving (see adjoining story)—the rise of more technological outreach methods is more of an addition than a replacement.

But it’s definitely steering campaigns in both parties, a trend that has strengthened as software and other tools have become cheaper and more accessible. Data collected from the electorate end up in databases that guide candidates in targeting their outreach to voters most likely to go their way.

A lot of the input comes from phone surveys, but even door-to-door campaigning can be a source. Smart-phone applications enable on-the-spot collection of facts, everything from answers to face-to-face survey questions to observations picked up around the house, Nonaka said. American flag out front? Pro-life bumper sticker on the car? Into the database it goes.

And, said GOP Hawaii Executive Director Blake Parsons, since 2012 Republicans have been converted to high-tech ways of gathering data. The party locally is using phone banks equipped with Internet phones that do the dialing much more efficiently, he said, and in campaigning, every second counts.

Ultimately the technology is more about the data mining and less about the message delivery—e-mail blasts, Facebooking, Twitter posts or whatever. But, Milner said, social-media modes are effective in reaching people who use it.

“One thing you can do with social media that you can’t do with sign-waving is build networks out of it,” he said.

The association of political messaging with people known to the voters is another strength of social media, Moore added. People respond better to a candidate once they feel they’ve been properly introduced.

“I think it can be pretty effective—it has some of the same qualities a door-to-door campaign does,” he said. “A lot of people are pretty surprised to find out about the politics of friends. And you are more likely to support a candidate if it’s recommended to you by a friend or relative.”

That said, nothing replaces the truly personal touch: meeting the candidate. Everyone agrees that candidates walking the district reap the biggest dividends.

“The most effective way is still absolutely knocking on doors,” Moore said. “These robo calls are basically useless. The old-fashioned shoe-leather politics, it works better than anything else.”