HONOLULU — Gov. David Ige’s job approval rating has sunk to a new low amid the ongoing standoff over the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, though Hawaii voters have an even lower opinion of the Legislature.
Just 35% of Hawaii residents said they approve of Ige’s job performance, while 56 % said they disapprove, according to a Star-Advertiser poll conducted this month. There was little ambivalence among those polled, with just 9% of respondents saying they weren’t sure how they felt.
Ige’s poll numbers were worst among Native Hawaiians, 74% of whom said they disapprove of Ige’s job performance. Just 20% of Hawaiians said they approve, and 6% said they were unsure.
Support for the governor was highest among residents of Japanese descent. Still, more of those polled disapproved of his job performance than approved.
Ige’s support within his own party is also weak, with 50% of Democrats saying they disapprove of Ige’s job performance and 42% saying they approve.
The Star-Advertiser poll surveyed 800 registered voters statewide by phone Sept. 12-17 and was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, which increases when broken down by subgroup.
Ige has never been a particularly popular governor, and the low poll numbers likely reflect disgruntlement over his handling of the TMT, said Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He said Ige’s polling numbers likely place him among the country’s lowest rated governors.
“He’s in a very difficult situation where he has two large groups on both sides and he won’t be able to please any group, which is not the situation any politician wants to be in, ” said Moore.
Moore said Ige’s high disapproval rating should be of particular concern for the governor.
“That kind of disapproval rating means that there’s a lot of considered opinions out there who are very opposed to the governor, ” said Moore.
Moore said part of Ige’s problem is that he hasn’t had any major policy victories to act as a buffer when things aren’t going well politically.
“So when you are faced with an issue like TMT, it’s pretty easy for your approval ratings to erode quickly, just like we saw with the missile scare,” said Moore.
Ige’s latest approval ratings are lower than in March 2018, two months after the false incoming missile alert popped up on residents’ cellphones. In that poll, 39% of those surveyed said they approved of Ige’s job performance versus 49% percent who said they disapproved.
Joan Peters, a 69 year-old retired English literature professor who lives in Waianae, said Ige comes off as a weak leader, citing both his handling of TMT and the false missile alert.
“‘Weak’ is not a word I like, because a lot of people are weak, it’s not a big deal. But I think that if you are a governor you should take principled stances, especially a Democratic governor,” she said.
Greta Kailiehu, 67, a resident of Makawao, Maui, said she was disappointed that Ige supported the TMT and that he hadn’t done enough to address homelessness and low teacher salaries.
“I think he is still in the process of learning to be a leader,” she said.
While Ige’s polling numbers are low, the Legislature’s are even lower. Just 27 % of respondents said they approve of the Legislature’s job performance, while 51% said they disapprove. Another 22% said they aren’t sure. Those figures varied little when broken down by ethnicity, age and gender.
Residents of Kauai and Hawaii island viewed the Legislature more favorably than residents of Oahu and Maui.
Moore said the poll numbers aren’t that surprising given the low approval ratings of state legislatures across the country. Still, he said 27% is “terrible.”
Moore said there is a sense in the community that state lawmakers haven’t tackled the issues that people care about, such as the high cost of living.
Morris DeRego, a 68 year-old Waipahu resident, said the Legislature has been ineffective.
“What have they done to help the common guy on the street? Are the taxes lower? How did they do on the rail?” said DeRego, who is a Republican.
Jon Charles, a 45-year-old resident of Wailuku, said he disapproved of the Legislature, in part, because it was Oahu-centric and didn’t pay enough attention to the neighbor islands. He said it was also too liberal.
“The whole Hawaii Legislature is a Democratic monolith,” said Charles, who is an independent. “It’s kind of a joke. Politics in this state in general are kind of a joke. It’s a bunch of gun grabbers, a bunch of people that are progressives and leftists, and it just irritates the crap out of me.”