Civil Beat Poll - Can Gov't Solve Challenges?

United States House of Representatives

Editor's note: This is part of a Civil Beat series on the positions and attitudes of voters versus non-voters in Hawaii. Read previous articles in the series:

Hawaii's non-voters are more likely than their voting counterparts to say the country is moving in the wrong direction and that the U.S. is unable to solve its challenges no matter who's put in charge, according to The Civil Beat Poll.

Most registered voters say politicians and officials don't understand them and work harder to benefit themselves and their campaign donors than their constituents. And the more cynical they are, the less likely they are to vote.

Civil Beat surveyed likely voters, non-voters and 2008-only voters. The poll, conducted April 15-17 and April 22, included opinions from 1,162 registered Hawaii voters and had a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent.1

A variety of questions showed the skepticism and contempt that non-voters hold for government.

Voters On How Government Operates

Registered voters who have not cast a ballot in recent elections were the least likely to say their leaders can relate to them, with just 12 percent saying yes when asked, "Do you feel that most politicians and government officials understand people like you?" Sixty-five percent answered no, and 23 percent said they were not sure. Overall, 19 percent of registered voters said yes, 63 percent said no and 18 percent said they were not sure.

Non-voters were also the most likely to say the country's challenges cannot be solved by an effective government, though the majority are still hopeful. Of non-voters, 20 percent said the problems cannot be solved no matter who is charge of the government versus 67 percent who said the challenges can be surmounted. For likely voters, the split was 77 percent yes and 12 percent no, and for all registered voters, it was 75-14.

Similarly, just 12 percent of non-voters say that government officials generally work harder to benefit the citizens they represent than to benefit themselves and the people and groups who donate the most to their campaigns. That's lower than the 20 percent of 2008-only voters who said yes to that question. Likely voters fall in between those numbers, and 15 percent of registered Hawaii voters said yes versus 73 percent who said donors are at the top of the priority list.

The survey's findings align with an earlier Civil Beat Poll, conducted in December 2011, that found Hawaii voters believe corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals have the most influence over who is elected to Congress and that members of Congress act in the interests of those who donated to their campaigns. A Pew Research Center poll found the same sentiments in a national survey.

In that same December Civil Beat Poll, Hawaii voters said they support limiting political donations. Civil Beat's editorial board wrote in January that Congress should work to regain the people's trust.

Voters On Direction: Right or Wrong?

Asked in April if things are going in the right direction or the wrong direction in the United States right now, 2008-only voters were the only group where "right" responses outnumbered "wrong" — 48 percent to 38 percent. Only 37 percent of non-voters said things are headed the right way, and Hawaii registered voters overall answered 40 percent "right," 43 percent "wrong" and 17 percent not sure.

There was no statistically significant gap in the groups' responses to a question about the direction of Hawaii. Overall, registered voters were even more pessimistic about the direction of the state than the country — 50 percent said "wrong" versus 36 percent for "right" and 13 percent not sure.

And asked about how they feel about President Barack Obama's job performance, the three voter groups again gave statistically equivalent responses. Overall, registered Hawaii voters still like Obama, with 54 percent saying they approve of his work, 36 percent saying they disapprove and 10 percent saying they're not sure.

That mostly lines up with an earlier Civil Beat Poll, this one from October 2011, though the support has cooled a bit. In that survey, 63 percent of likely Hawaii voters said they approved of Obama's job performance versus 32 who said they disapproved and 5 percent who said they were not sure.

In earlier polls conducted for Civil Beat, Obama's approval ratings were 63 percent in May 2010, 63 percent in September 2010, 62 percent in October 2010 and 64 percent in May 2011.2 That last poll showed Obama did not get a bump, as he had in the rest of the country, from killing Osama Bin Laden.

DISCUSSION: Can the challenges the country faces today could be solved by an effective government?

Follow the elections with Civil Beat's Hawaii Elections Guide 2012 and in particular visit our voter registration and turnout page to find out how to participate in this year's elections.

Voters On Government

Demographics By Voter Type

1. ABOUT THE POLL: Civil Beat surveyed a stratified random sample of 1,162 registered voters in Hawaii on the evenings of April 15-17 and April 22, 2012, using interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling).

The sampling margin of error is +/- 2.9 percentage points. The margin of error indicates that in 95 percent of samples of this size, the results will be within +/- 2.9 percent of the actual percentage in the full population of registered voters.

The sample was stratified based on publicly available records of past voting behavior. The stratified sub-samples included 567 Likely Voters (margin of error, +/- 4.1 percentage points), 423 registered Non-Voters (margin of error, +/- 4.8 percentage points), and 172 voters who participated in the 2008 General Election but have not otherwise voted (margin of error, +/- 7.5 percentage points).

Poll results were weighted for gender and to match the population ratio of Likely Voters, Non-Voters, and 2008-only Voters. Statistical differences between the sub-samples were determined using chi-square tests of independence with a significance level of p < .05. All statistical comparisons disregarded group differences in the frequency of "not sure" responses. Some columns may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

The poll was conducted by Civil Beat working with Merriman River Group, a full-service consulting organization specializing in opinion research, election management, and communication.

2. It's possible that part of the difference in Obama's approval rating in this poll was due to a minor change in the language of the survey question. Previously, respondents were given four options: strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove and strongly disapprove. This time, they were only given two options: approve or disapprove.

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