Akaka still ahead, poll finds
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka has held his edge over U.S. Rep. Ed Case in the Democratic primary for Senate, a new Hawai'i Poll has found, and many voters say they are basing their decision on the candidates' stand on public-policy issues.
The poll of likely Democratic primary voters found Akaka leading Case 51 percent to 38 percent with 11 percent undecided. The poll was conducted by Ward Research Inc. in early September among 601 voters statewide. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.
The results are nearly identical to a Hawai'i Poll taken in June, which found Akaka up over Case among likely primary voters 51 percent to 40 percent with 9 percent undecided. The margin of error in that poll was 5.3 percentage points.
The polls suggest that many voters made up their minds early in the primary season and have not been persuaded to switch their loyalty by campaign advertisements over the summer or by the August debate between the candidates.
Political analysts think that truly undecided voters will end up favoring Case on Saturday, since they are likely open to his message of change if they have not chosen Akaka by now. But the Hawai'i Poll found that many of the voters who say they are undecided are Japanese-Americans who historically are reluctant to tell pollsters their choice but are traditional Democrats more likely to stay with Akaka.
SENIORITY MAY BE KEY
Several voters interviewed said they were leaning toward Akaka because of his seniority — he has been in the Senate for the past 16 years after serving 14 years in the U.S. House — and because of his opposition to the war in Iraq.
"He was brave enough to stand up and oppose the war in Iraq. That's the main issue for me," said Dorothy Hughes, who is retired and lives in Kihei, on Maui.
Stuart Cowan, an attorney who lives in Kane'ohe, prefers Case. He said the congressman understands the importance of protecting the U.S. against international terrorism. He also thought Akaka did not perform well at the AARP Hawai'i debate in August, where Akaka's campaign insisted there be no direct questioning between the candidates.
"I think this age factor has a good deal to do with it," Cowan said. "I wasn't impressed with Dan Akaka."
The Hawai'i Poll, sponsored by The Advertiser and KHNL News 8, found that the primary is closer on O'ahu than on the Neighbor Islands, where Akaka has a more substantial lead.
Akaka, 82, also is much stronger than Case, 53, among voters who usually vote for Democrats, while Case leads among independents and voters who typically vote Republican. Case has the advantage among white voters, while Akaka does better with Japanese-Americans, Filipino-Americans and Hawaiians.
Akaka also holds leads across age and income groups, indicating a broad demographic base of support for the senator. Akaka's campaign has conducted aggressive outreach among potential absentee voters, and the poll found that the senator is ahead among those who intend to vote by absentee ballot.
Rebecca Ward, the president of Ward Research, said the two polls show there has not been much movement in voter sympathies during the campaign. She said the questions now in the week before the primary are which way undecided voters break and whether there is a surge in the independent or Republican crossover vote for Case.
The most recent poll showed a higher percentage of Republican crossover than the June poll but not enough to swing the primary toward Case.
"There hasn't been much movement there," Ward said of the overall poll numbers, "so any change is going to come from outside the traditional Democratic voters."
When voters were asked to choose the most important factor in their decision, 43 percent said the candidates' stance on issues. Case's campaign theme of leadership transition was the most important to 18 percent of voters, while Akaka's theme of seniority was the most important for 14 percent of voters.
Filipino-American voters were the only ethnic group to rate leadership transition over the candidates' stance on issues as the most important factor, suggesting that undecided Filipino-Americans might go with Case. Filipino-American voters made up the second-highest share of undecided voters in the poll behind Japanese-Americans.
Case noted that a Hawai'i Poll taken before his 2002 Democratic primary for governor against Mazie Hirono failed to capture the extent of his support. Hirono, who, like Akaka, had the backing of the party's establishment, had a healthy double-digit lead in that poll but wound up barely beating Case in the primary.
The congressman said there is a disconnect between the poll results and the feedback he is hearing when he is out campaigning. He believes the race is much more fluid and that voters may not be telling pollsters their true preference.
"The reach of the old-boy network is pretty intimidating even when you think you're talking to an anonymous pollster," Case said. "The number of times that we have heard in some way, shape or form something to the effect of, 'No worry, what I do when I pull the curtain is up to me. But I'm not going to say so now.'
"It's really amazing."
Case also repeated his call for all voters who want change to pull a Democratic primary ballot. "This is a call to action to the voters. What do you want? Because if you want the same things that we want, it's not going to happen unless you reach out and choose it," he said.
Akaka said he is energized by the warm wishes he has received from people during the campaign. "As we've had coffee hours and rallies, I feel so energized because everybody who came up to see me would tell me that they were supporting me and their families were supporting me," the senator said. "So that has been very encouraging to me to hear that."
Akaka said he would remind undecided voters over the next several days of his experience and accomplishments. His campaign also will continue to show contrasts with Case over issues such as the war in Iraq, electronic surveillance in the USA Patriot Act, and protecting the U.S. cargo shipping industry through the federal Jones Act. (Read more details about the differences between Akaka and Case on these issues at www.honoluluadvertiser.com.)
"We want to continue to deliver our message of wanting to serve Hawai'i well and to continue to work to help our families, our veterans," Akaka said.
Leanne Nakamura, a student majoring in speech at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, said she has been going back and forth between Akaka and Case. She said she has found things to like in the voting records of both candidates but may ultimately base her decision on the war in Iraq.
She agrees with Case that it would be risky for the United States to set a timetable for troop withdrawal until Iraq is more stable. But she also respects Akaka for speaking out against the war before it was unpopular.
"I feel like I still have to go back and read up on it a little more," Nakamura said.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.