Hawaii Polls Demand a Critical Eye

It’s notoriously difficult to poll in the state, with many surveys missing the mark.

National Journal
Steven Shepard
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Steven Shepard
Feb. 18, 2014, 11:26 a.m.

This week­end’s Hon­olulu Star-Ad­vert­iser Hawaii poll brought a raft of sur­pris­ing find­ings. Ap­poin­ted Demo­crat­ic Sen. Bri­an Schatz is trail­ing Demo­crat­ic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in their closely-watched primary match­up, and Demo­crat­ic Gov. Neil Aber­crom­bie, who ap­poin­ted Schatz to the Sen­ate and was suc­ceeded in the House by Hanabusa, is los­ing to his likely GOP rival.

Just be­cause the res­ults are sur­pris­ing doesn’t mean this poll isn’t ac­cur­ate. But it does serve as a re­mind­er that poll­sters face unique chal­lenges in Hawaii.

Polling in Hawaii is no­tori­ously tricky. The Aloha State’s com­plex eth­nic melt­ing pot makes find­ing the right sample com­pos­i­tion dif­fi­cult — es­pe­cially im­port­ant when a Caucasi­an can­did­ate like Schatz or Aber­crom­bie is fa­cing an Amer­ic­an of Ja­pan­ese an­ces­try (AJA) can­did­ate like Hanabusa or Ige. Ward Re­search, the Star-Ad­vert­iser‘s poll­ster, missed the Demo­crat­ic primary in the state’s 2nd con­gres­sion­al dis­trict last cycle by a wide mar­gin.

Schatz’s cam­paign and oth­er Demo­crats dis­puted the poll, which showed Hanabusa ahead, 48 per­cent to 40 per­cent. For the primary match­ups, Demo­crats aligned with Schatz’s cam­paign poin­ted out that 82 per­cent of all the re­gistered voters sur­veyed par­ti­cip­ated in that ques­tion, even though far few­er than 82 per­cent of eli­gible re­gistered voters are likely to cast bal­lots in the primary.

Even though Schatz is the in­cum­bent, in­clud­ing un­likely voters would be­ne­fit Hanabusa, they ar­gued. As a twice-elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ive for half the state’s res­id­ents, Hanabusa has high­er name iden­ti­fic­a­tion than Schatz. As a res­ult, lower-in­form­a­tion voters — whom the Schatz camp says are un­likely to vote but are be­ing sur­veyed in the Star-Ad­vert­iser poll — would be more likely to sup­port Hanabusa.

The Schatz cam­paign did provide some sup­port for their the­ory: They re­leased a month-old in­tern­al poll show­ing Schatz with a slim, four-point lead over Hanabusa. But, like the Star-Ad­vert­iser poll, they found Hanabusa with more name-ID, and Schatz did markedly bet­ter among voters who were fa­mil­i­ar with both can­did­ates.

In the gubernat­ori­al race, Demo­crats feel that the poll, which shows Aber­crom­bie trail­ing former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, the man he clobbered four years ago, by eight points, is equally flawed. But even in­tern­al polling is no easy task in Hawaii: In ad­di­tion to the mix of eth­ni­cit­ies that make up the elect­or­ate, the state and oth­er out­side groups have done little work to main­tain re­cords of voters there that can be mined for in­form­a­tion about vote fre­quency and oth­er char­ac­ter­ist­ics that help poll­sters de­term­ine whom to call.

“The voter file is ter­rible. It’s in ter­rible shape,” said one Demo­crat­ic poll­ster with ex­per­i­ence in Hawaii. “Nobody’s really spent the money to make it good. So that’s a prob­lem.”

With the pro­spect of tight Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al races, Hawaii re­mains a state to watch in 2014. But there’s reas­on to view the poll res­ults we see there with a crit­ic­al eye, and sur­veys are likely to be in­fre­quent enough to make poll av­er­ages less use­ful.

What We're Following See More »
REPEATS CONTROVERSIAL CLAIM
Trump: Clinton “Doesn’t Have The Stamina” to be President
3 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

At the end of the debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Donald Trump if he stands by his statement that Hillary Clinton didn't have the look of a president. Trump responded by saying Holt misquoted him, instead saying that Clinton "doesn't have the stamina." Clinton responded by saying that when Trump visits 112 countries as secretary of state, he can talk to her about stamina.

WIDELY DEBUNKED CLAIM
Trump: Clinton Camp Started Birtherism
3 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Donald Trump, when pressed by Lester Holt on why he finally admitted that President Obama was born in America, repeated his widely debunked claim that it was started by Hillary Clinton.

“AFRICAN AMERICANS” ARE “LIVING IN HELL”
Conversation Shifts to Race
3 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Hillary Clinton went point by point on how race can so often determine the treatment that people receive, mentioning recent shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte, calling for restored trust between communities and police, and demanding criminal justice reform. Trump responded by calling for law and order and touting his endorsements from police unions. He then said that “African Americans are living in hell,” saying they are just walking down the street and getting “shot ... being decimated by crime."

JUST AS CLINTON INVITES VIEWERS TO VISIT HER SITE
During Debate, Trump Site Appears to Be Down
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Just as Hillary Clinton was inviting debate viewers to visit her site for real-time fact checking, there appeared to be a problem with Donald Trump's own campaign website. For about a 15-minute period, a blank page or an error message appeared when we tried to load the Trump site.

INTERRUPTS CLINTON MULTIPLE TIMES
Trump Comes Out Swinging
4 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

Donald Trump has come out in the first segment of this debate raring to go. Trump has interrupted nearly every answer being given by Hillary Clinton, talking over her time and again. Clinton is sticking to her guns, smiling while Trump speaks and then calling on people to go to her website and see the fact checking being done.

×