Reactions to poll highlight division over TMT

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Kahoohaki Kanuha and other TMT opponents discuss their next move as they block Maunakea Access Road in July.

KAILUA-KONA — Many are quick to dismiss the findings of a recent poll conducted for Civil Beat by MRG Research, calling the results flawed, skewed and propaganda for a survey that shows significant support throughout the state for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The telephone poll, published last week by the online news organization, found that 64% of registered voters in the state who were polled say they favor building the telescope, most of them strongly in support.

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Thirty-one percent oppose the project and only 3% say they are unsure, while another 3% say the issue does not matter to them. On the Big Island, the survey showed 61% support versus 33% opposed.

Of those surveyed who identified themselves as Hawaiian, the poll showed 48% opposed versus 44% in support of the telescope.

The poll surveyed 1,367, or 0.18% of registered voters statewide, from Aug. 1-3.

A similar poll taken in 2018 by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser asked 800 randomly selected registered voters throughout the state if they support or oppose the construction of the TMT on Maunakea. Seventy-seven percent of the respondents said they supported TMT, 15% were opposed, while 8% were undecided.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim posted a link to the Civil Beat survey results on his social media page last week, garnering more than 600 comments.

The vast majority of those commenting said they were never polled and the results were biased. Several people expressed frustration that they did not get to “vote,” even though they are registered.

“Mayor Kim, your data is seriously flawed! Polling only registered voters does not include the many locals who do not register to vote because they do not necessarily support the current government. Many do, however, care deeply about this island and this important issue. Do the right thing!” commented Becky Thurston.

Colene De Mello said, “I wasn’t polled, I am a registered voter. I feel I have been discriminated against by not being included in this biased poll.”

Scott Kalei Parker chimed in: “Majority of Hawaii? Oh come on. There’s more people on Maunakea on one weekend standing firm in ‘a‘ole TMT and you expect us to believe that 1,300 people surveyed represent a ‘majority of Hawaii?’ Come out from the rock your living under Harry Kim and Governor David Ige!!!!”

Brittany Newman commented: “That’s bull. So did you go to a pro TMT event for this poll? Because I never heard ANYTHING about it. Shame on you. Manipulating the system again!”

A few TMT supporters also weighed in.

“Count me in for the support of the TMT, as you know Mayor Harry, I am 50 percent Hawaiian and 100 percent American,” said Max Calica.

Ben Martin Kealoha commented: “what good is a poll going to do at this point in time? absolutely NOTHING! It’s a known FACT that the road is illegally blocked. The highest court in the state ruled in favor of TMT. Time to ENFORCE the laws and #opentheroad.”

“Just because people don’t like the results doesn’t mean they are wrong,” commented Barbara Schultz. “There are neutral people who support sharing and who are not taking sides. There are also those who support TMT that are staying quiet except perhaps when asked by a poll. So much anger out there that supporters stay off of social media. And — it doesn’t mean they don’t care about Maunakea.”

Kim’s spokesperson, Janet Snyder, said the link on the mayor’s Facebook page had received 31,000 hits as of Tuesday morning.

“It was remarkable, the biggest reaction to anything we have seen,” she said. “It was the first official poll we had seen, and decided it was newsworthy.”

Snyder added that they did their due diligence before posting the link and determined the organization that conducted the survey was legitimate.

“As the government, we provide the facts,” Snyder said.

MRG Research, a firm based on the East Coast, declined to comment on the poll.

Civil Beat wrote that the results were weighted to reflect a mix of 60% landlines and 40% cellphones. The overall margin of error is 2.7 percentage points.

The poll was conducted several days after the governor canceled an emergency proclamation that was meant to provide more authority to law enforcement to close more areas and restrict access on Maunakea. At that same time — July 30 — the state Department of Land and Natural Resources approved a two-year extension of TMT’s conservation district use permit.

Scott Ishikawa, TMT spokesperson, said the results matched what previous accounts found.

“There is often confusion around how scientific polls work, but the latest results generally match previous scientific polls showing majority support for the TMT project,” he said in a statement to West Hawaii Today. “The voices of the silent majority are starting to be heard and polling allows those being surveyed to express their opinion without pressure.”

Kona resident and LegalShield professional Warren Chong also defended the poll, stating the research organization has to maintain integrity and cannot take shortcuts or influence the results through coercion.

“I believe that when people are asked in a confidential poll they tend to be more honest,” he said, adding that he thinks more and more people will start to speak out in favor of the project.

Jacqui Hoover, executive director of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, also agreed with the poll results.

She said it reflects what she is seeing and hearing in the community. However, she added the vocal minority are garnering all of the attention, making supporters afraid to speak out.

“I am Native Hawaiian and I support TMT. That doesn’t mean I forgot the pains of the past. We cannot reconcile the past and the present by sacrificing for the future,” Hoover said.

“So many people are concerned about expressing support but struggle with what Native Hawaiians have experienced,” she added.

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The poll also found that only 21% of those surveyed have a positive opinion of the governor’s leadership on the issue compared to 53% with negative views.

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.

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