HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The false missile alert.
A catastrophic eruption of Kilauea in 2018.
The Thirty Meter Telescope standoff at Mauna Kea.
And now, a pandemic.
Gov. David Ige has been Hawaii’s chief executive through more than his fair share of crises. He’s issued emergency proclamations to deal with everything from homelessness to hurricanes to rivers of lava destroying communities.
And during the COVID-19 outbreak, his emergency orders brought tourism to a virtual standstill and closed thousands of businesses that are only now slowly reopening — actions that while incredibly disruptive have been credited with keeping coronavirus cases and deaths in the islands relatively low.
What do Hawaii voters think of the state’s top elected official in the midst of this disaster? The majority aren’t fans.
A new Civil Beat-HNN poll found that 54% have a negative opinion of the governor. Just 1 in 5 have a positive view, while the rest said they weren’t sure.
HNN political analyst said that nearly every governor in the country has gotten a bump in the polls for their responses to the pandemic. “Unlike most other governors, Ige hasn’t seen his approval ratings increase,” he said.
The results aren’t entirely surprising given that Ige—who has two years left on his second term—has long struggled with low favorability ratings.
But a majority of voters expressing negative views of the governor is nonetheless remarkable given how Hawaii has fared in the pandemic, at least when it comes to keeping infections down.
His low numbers indicate that voters either don’t give him credit for those successes or believe he went too far in shutting down the state, a move that’s driven the unemployment rate in tourism-reliant Hawaii to more than 22%.
For Carol Beardsley, a resident of Kapaa, it’s the former.
She told Civil Beat that Ige didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the pandemic at first.
“Watching his briefings, it doesn’t seem that he is knowledgeable, and he seemed extremely stubborn to what Josh Green was saying," she said.
She added that the lieutenant governor had “the guts to get up there and not agree with the governor.”
June Hart, an Aiea resident, also had a negative view of the governor.
“Speaking generally, it’s because there is a lack of information and action from him,” she told Civil Beat.
“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.”
The poll was conducted by MRG Research from May 18-20, and surveyed 1,533 registered voters statewide using landlines, cell phones and online questionnaires. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5%.
Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, told Civil Beat that the main takeaway of the results are that “it’s really a lot harder to be an executive making decisions right now.”
“Those elected officials who have executive roles are faring worse than those with legislative or advocacy roles.”
That’s true of Mayor Kirk Caldwell, too.
Some 41% of registered voters statewide viewed him negatively. On Oahu, that number rises to 47%.
A leader who is positively regarded: Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a part-time emergency room doctor.
Seven in 10 Hawaii voters have a positive opinion of Ige’s second-in-command, and just 10% had a negative view.
Green’s official role in responding to the pandemic has been somewhat limited — as a liaison with the health care community — but he’s expanded it with community partnerships and a savvy communications strategy.
Both Green and Caldwell are considering runs for governor in two years.
Fitch said they are in very different positions.
Green is “already running and quite likely against Kirk Caldwell. But Green is in an advocacy position and Caldwell is making executive decisions," he told Civil Beat.
Moore, the HNN political analyst, said Green has been able to strike a balance between openly criticizing some elements of the state’s response to the pandemic and appearing that he’s “on the same team.”
He added that Caldwell’s approval has not been good “for a long time.”
In a news conference Tuesday, Caldwell said all of the decisions he’s made amid the pandemic have put the public’s health and safety first. “Whether it be popular or not, we’re no focused on polls,” he said.
Meanwhile, as Congress struggles to respond to COVID-19, Hawaii voters didn’t give Hawaii’s congressional delegation stellar reviews.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who used to have the highest popularity rating of any Hawaii leader, now is at the bottom of the pack.
Some 49% of voters had a negative view of her. She previously announced she is not running for reelection.
Gabbard generated the ire of many Hawaii voters during her improbable presidential run, when she attacked the Democratic Party establishment and seemed to ignore key issues facing the islands.
She dropped out of the race in March after winning just two delegates.
Her positive approval rating — of 28% statewide and 35% in her district — was also lower than other members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.
One in 5 voters had a negative rating for U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, but it was 1 in 3 for U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.
Many voters, meanwhile, hadn’t formed an opinion yet about U.S. Rep. Ed Case.