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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2003

Lingle's approval rating strong, poll shows

 •  Graphic (opens in new window): Approval rates for Lingle, Legislature
 •  Previous story: Poll shows 77% would pay to improve schools
 •  Review all the Hawai'i Poll data

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Nearly three out of four Hawai'i residents approve of Gov. Linda Lingle's approach to leading the state, according to The Honolulu Advertiser Hawai'i Poll.

Poll finds support for tax incentives

Hawai'i residents strongly approve of giving tax incentives to stimulate the economy, but they are less enthusiastic about tax breaks targeted to specific projects. Specifically, the Hawai'i Poll found:

• Seventy-four percent of Hawai'i residents approve of tax breaks to help stimulate the economy, while 22 percent disapprove and 4 percent had no opinion.

• Asked if they approved of tax breaks for specific projects, 47 percent said they approve, 44 percent said they disapprove and 8 percent had no opinion.

• On the topic of the links between campaign contributions and government contracts, 73 percent said they believe the chances of landing a government contract are "very much" or "somewhat" enhanced if a business contributes to successful candidates. Twenty-four percent said they didn't believe the chances were increased and 3 percent had no opinion.

As with the rest of the poll, the margin of error is 4 percentage points.

The poll found less than half of Hawai'i residents approve of the Legislature in general, but 61 percent said they approve of their representative or senator's approach to solving problems.

Lingle, who was elected last November and is Hawai'i's first Republican governor in 40 years, has an exceptionally strong approval rating of 71 percent, the poll found. Fourteen percent said they disapprove of Lingle's approach and 15 percent said they didn't know or had no opinion.

The random telephone survey of 603 Hawai'i residents was conducted Jan. 25 to 30 by Ward Research Inc. of Honolulu. The margin of error is 4 percentage points, which analysts say means a survey of all Hawai'i residents would not be likely to produce a result more than 4 percentage points above or below the poll results.

While the poll was taken a little more than a month after Lingle took office, and before she has waded deeply into any controversy, the numbers are still remarkably strong, especially in a state where the Democratic Party dominates.

"It's sort of logical — you start high before you get a chance to make anyone angry," said Neal Milner, a University of Hawai'i political science professor. "There's a honeymoon period ... and there hasn't been really a chance to mess that up yet. She's a relatively fresh face. That plus the fact that the Legislature has only been in session for two weeks."

Lingle said she was pleased by the figures, but said the positive ratings are something to share with the people in her administration.

"It's good that people feel that we're going in the right direction," she said. "It's still early, of course, and maybe some of that is because we're new. But I take that percentage is something that should be spread across all of my directors because we really are a team."

Lingle chuckled about comments that she's still in a "honeymoon" period.

"It will be interesting to see how it goes," she said. "I guess there is a pattern over time with almost anyone in public life, as you make decisions, some people like them and some people don't. And I expect that will happen but I hope that overall they'll judge us on balance — did we work in the public interest, did we work the very best we could with the resources we had and did we live up to the things we said we wanted to achieve?"

Less than half of Hawai'i residents approve of the Legislature's approach to handling the state's challenges, and nearly a third of those polled say they disapprove of what they're doing.

But while the Legislature as an institution does not have a high approval rating, most said they generally like how their legislators are handling things. Nearly 20 percent said they could not say or that they didn't know who their representative is.

Milner said he wasn't surprised that people have less than positive views of the Legislature but appreciate their own district's lawmakers.

"It reflects voting behavior," he said. "People complain about what legislators do generally, but incumbents get elected."

Poll respondent Mark Krieg, a 45-year-old truck driver from 'Alewa Heights, said he was impressed by Lingle's call for an audit of the state's finances and with her philosophy of fiscal discipline.

"What she's doing is she's looking at the programs and seeing which one is a black hole," said Krieg, who said he is independent from both the Democratic and Republican parties. "There's definitely a lot more discipline in spending programs. ... I think the approach that she has is going to work."

Other respondents who said they approved of Lingle's approach had less specific reasons or said it's simply too early to tell.

"She just started so there's not really much," said Kimmie Palpallatoc, a 39-year-old roofing and lumber saleswoman from 'Ewa Beach. "I think any change is a change for the better. ... She's not arrogant yet. A lot of them become arrogant as the years go by. ... I think she has a more grassroots effect. She wants to get in there and start at the bottom."

The poll did not track job approval numbers for previous governors early in their administrations, but Ward Research president Rebecca Ward said Lingle's ratings are "quite high." "Considering that we know the percentage of the electorate that voted her in, to have a 71 percent approval is pretty good," Ward said.

Lingle won the election with 52 percent of the vote.

Lingle's popularity spanned all demographics, even receiving the approval of 63 percent of those who usually vote for Democrats. Eighty-eight percent of people identifying with the Republican Party indicated they approve of Lingle's leadership, as did 72 percent of those who consider themselves independent voters.

Approval ratings, however, can be extremely fleeting in politics. President Bush's job approval rating after a month in office in 2001 was 62 percent, according to a Gallup Poll. It dropped to 51 percent — the lowest of his tenure — just before the Sept. 11 attacks, after which it soared to 90 percent. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll in January put Bush's approval rating at 58 percent.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.