Of Debating Pols And Dueling Polls

Dear reader, please indulge me. I’ll be jumping around this week, because the political news is coming too fast and furiously. So let’s start with …

Debating politicians. Two Wednesdays ago I listened to the Hawaii Public Radio debate between Democratic senatorial hopefuls Ed Case and Mazie Hirono; the following evening I moderated a televised sit-down with them on Insights on PBS Hawaii.

Both proved spirited debates in which expectations played a significant role. By limiting her joint appearances with Case to a half a dozen or so, Hirono implied, wittingly or not, that she feared debating him. On radio, however, I thought she carried the first half hour; she showed greater passion and argued well. But Case, a supremely rational man, took the second half. On Insights I thought they both acquitted themselves well.

And the differences between them were clear. Case courts Democratic votes but he sees victory in the addition of Independents and Republicans. On fiscal matters, he hews a more conservative line than Hirono. Hirono talks most comfortably about education issues, green technology jobs and protecting entitlements. Her constituencies are union members and “progressive Democrats,” however they are defined.

Case and Hirono should meet again, at least once. Twice would be better, three times the best, on the commercial networks. Democracy is literally at stake these days, endangered by vulgar supplies of money, negative campaigning and growing voter apathy. Candidates must participate outside of the comfort zone of their own paid political advertising – or their own wholly owned television channel. The voters deserve it.

Then there’s dueling polls. Case has been arguing that his show him in a dead heat with Hirono for the Democratic Senate nomination. Hirono’s campaign has answered with criticism of Case’s poll and assurances that its own surveys showed the congresswoman with a comfortable lead.

Or try a recent poll commissioned by supporters of rail transit that showed Ben Cayetano’s numbers falling to 38 percent in a his three-way race for Honolulu mayor against Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell. Cayetano screamed the equivalent of “Balderdash!” It was a “push poll,” meaning one in which the interviewers attempt to alter the opinions of the respondents.

Who knows? But everybody cares. Following poll numbers has replaced familiarizing oneself with either the candidates or the issues. A voter can trust only one network and none of the newspapers; the Fox Network and our preachers tell us so. The media, in turn, shrinks every day. Fewer television and print reporters cover more news every day.

But the media and the candidates always can commission a poll. Its results will provide a week or more of copy, and we can read about what we think and about whom we favor. Does that result in more informed voters? Hardly, but it’s exciting. It’s like watching horses going down the backstretch into the far corner – and so on – at a racetrack. The race becomes everything.

So last week online’s Civil Beat reported polls of the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary that showed Tulsi Gabbard tied with Mufi Hannemann for the lead, each with a third of the vote, and the rest distributed among four other candidates. CB’s editors characterized it as a “stunning turnaround.”

“Not so fast,” Hannemann’s campaign replied, then offered its own poll that showed the former Honolulu mayor with a healthy 18 point advantage.

As I said, who knows?