Well, this is it–the final week before the Hawaii Primary Election on Aug. 9. So who’s going to win? Depends on which candidate you ask, or which poll you read. And if it seems to you that polls around here–which, right now, seem to show both incumbent U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and challenger Rep. Colleen Hanabusa leading in the Democratic Senate race–aren’t very helpful, take heart: others around the country have noticed, too.
“One problem: Polling in Hawaii–and especially primary polling–is notoriously unreliable,” Aaron Blake wrote in an Aug. 4 Washington Post politics blog. “And we don’t mean off-by-a-few points unreliable. We mean often vastly different-from-the-final-result unreliable.”
For his blog post, Blake used a few recent examples. In the 2010 Special Election, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s polling perfectly mirrored the final results, while Honolulu Civil Beat’s polls were off. But two years later, Civil Beat pretty much nailed the 2012 Hawaii Second District congressional race while the Star-Advertiser missed badly. Of course, in that same year, the Star-Advertiser came close to polling the outcome of the U.S. Senate race while Civil Beat didn’t.
As for why Hawaii polling is so unreliable, Blake wrote that there are lots of reasons, but said that a big part of the reason is “because the state’s large Asian American population is more difficult to correctly sample and often less willing to answer a pollster’s questions.” He then hyperlinked that explanation to a May 2014 Honolulu Magazine interview with Hawaii pollster Becky Ward (of Ward Research).
“There is, sometimes, a reticence to speak among some of the Asian ethnicities in Hawaii,” Ward said in that interview. “So there are some factors that will increase their comfort level and encourage better participation in telephone surveys–things like an 808 area code on caller ID and an interviewer from Hawaii with a voice that puts them at ease.”
Locally, reliable polling is all but impossible to find. Polls are expensive, and most Maui candidates don’t commission them. They can function as internal research tools to find out what voters want, or distribute negative or even salacious information–the latter are known as “push polls.” So far, I’ve found just a couple in campaign finance statements: state Sen. Roz Baker, D–6th District paid for a telephone poll from QMark Research in Honolulu on July 3 (at a cost of more than $14,500) and the $17,000 poll for the Super PAC Forward Progress poll previously cited in this Aug. 1 Mauitime story.
Baker and John White, the executive director of Forward Progress, did not respond to inquiries by press time.
Photo of Colleen Hanabusa: U.S. Congress/Wikimedia Commons