Reactions to news agency poll on TMT support as polarized as issue itself

Kahoohaki Kanuha and other TMT opponents discuss their next move as they block Maunakea Access Road in July. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

KAILUA-KONA — Many are quick to dismiss the findings of a recent poll conducted for Civil Beat by MRG Research, calling the results flawed, skewed and propaganda for a survey that shows significant support for TMT across the state.

The telephone poll, published last week by the online news organization, states that 64% of registered voters in the state who were polled say they favor building the state-of-the-art telescope, most of them strongly in support.


Thirty-one percent oppose the project and only 3% say they are unsure while another 3% say the issue does not matter to them. On the Big Island, the survey showed 61% support versus 33% opposed.

Of those surveyed who identified themselves as Hawaiian, the poll showed 48% opposed versus 44% in support of the telescope.

The poll surveyed 1,367 or 0.18% of registered voters statewide Aug. 1-3.

A similar poll taken in 2018 by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser asked 800 randomly selected registered voters across the state if they support or oppose the construction of the TMT on Maunakea. Seventy-seven percent of the respondents said they supported TMT, 15% were opposed, while 8% were undecided.

Mayor Harry Kim posted a link to the Civil Beat survey results on his social media page last week, garnering over 600 comments.

The vast majority of those commenting said that they were never polled and the results were biased. Several people expressed frustration that they did not get to “vote,” even though they are registered.

“Mayor Kim, your data is seriously flawed! Polling only registered voters does not include the many locals who do not register to vote because they do not necessarily support the current government. Many do, however, care deeply about this island and this important issue. Do the right thing!” Becky Thurston commented.

Colene De Mello said, “I wasn’t polled, I am a registered voter. I feel I have been discriminated against by not being included in this biased poll.”

Scott Kalei Parker chimed in “Majority of Hawaii? Oh come on. There’s more people on Maunakea on one weekend standing firm in ‘a‘ole TMT and you expect us to believe that 1,300 people surveyed represent a “majority of Hawaii?” Come out from the rock your living under Harry Kim and Governor David Ige!!!!”

Brittany Newman typed “That’s bull. So did you go to a pro TMT event for this poll? Because I never heard ANYTHING about it. Shame on you. Manipulating the system again!”

A few TMT supporters weighed in on the survey.

“Count me in for the support of the TMT, as you know Mayor Harry, I am 50 percent Hawaiian and 100 percent American,” said Max Calica.

Ben Martin Kealoha commented “what good is a poll going to do at this point in time? absolutely NOTHING! It’s a known FACT that the road is illegally blocked. The highest court in the state ruled in favor of TMT. Time to ENFORCE the laws and #opentheroad.”

Barbara Schultz mused “Just because people don’t like the results doesn’t mean they are wrong. There are neutral people who support sharing and who are not taking sides. There are also those who support TMT that are staying quiet except perhaps when asked by a poll. So much anger out there that supporters stay off of social media. And — it doesn’t mean they don’t care about Maunakea.”

Kim’s spokesperson Janet Snyder told West Hawaii Today the link on the mayor’s Facebook page had received 31,000 hits as of Tuesday morning.

“It was remarkable, the biggest reaction to anything we have seen,” she said. “It was the first official poll we had seen, and decided it was newsworthy.”

Snyder added that they did their due diligence before posting the link and determined the organization that conducted the survey was legitimate.

“As the government, we provide the facts,” said Snyder.

MRG Research, an East Coast-based firm, declined to comment on the poll.

Civil Beat wrote that the results were weighted to reflect a mix of 60% landlines and 40% cell phones. The overall margin of error is 2.7 percentage points.

The poll was conducted several days after the governor canceled an emergency proclamation to commence with TMT construction, which is pegged at $1.4 billion. At that same time — July 30 — the state Department of Land and Natural Resources approved an extension so the telescope would not have to begin construction until September 2021.

Scott Ishikawa, TMT spokesperson, said the results matched what previous accounts found.

“There is often confusion around how scientific polls work, but the latest results generally match previous scientific polls showing majority support for the TMT project,” he wrote in a statement to West Hawaii Today. “The voices of the silent majority are starting to be heard and polling allows those being surveyed to express their opinion without pressure.”

Kona resident and LegalShield professional Warren Chong also defended the poll, stating the research organization has to maintain integrity and cannot take shortcuts or influence the results through coercion.

“I believe that when people are asked in a confidential poll they tend to be more honest,” he said, adding that he believes more and more people will start to speak out in favor of the project.

Jacqui Hoover, executive director of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, also agreed with the poll results.

She said it reflects what she is seeing and hearing in the community. However, she added that the vocal minority is garnering all of the attention, making supporters afraid to speak out.

“Some people are allowing it to be more divisive than it should be. We can all agree to disagree,” she said.

“I am Native Hawaiian and I support TMT. That doesn’t mean I forgot the pains of the past. We cannot reconcile the past and the present by sacrificing for the future,” said Hoover, noting that it is time to move forward and not be fixated on the past.

“So many people are concerned about expressing support but struggle with what Native Hawaiians have experienced,” she said.

The poll also said that only 21% of those surveyed have a positive opinion of the governor’s leadership on the issue compared to 53% who hold negative views.

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