While all islands in Hawaii became a slightly lighter shade of blue this presidential election, the Big Island had the smallest increase in Trump voters in the state, according to a West Hawaii Today comparison of votes between 2016 and 2020.
Statewide, a dramatic increase in voter registration and turnout brought a 2.4 percentage point gain for Trump, the newspaper’s analysis showed. Big Island increases, however, amounted to only 1.6 percentage points. Kauai showed the highest increase, with 3.7 percentage points.
The state this year went solidly for the Democratic Biden/Harris ticket, awarding it 365,802 votes, or almost 65% of a one-on-one matchup with Republicans Trump/Pence, who garnered 196,602 votes. Hawaii Democrats also maintained a tight hold on congressional seats and the state House and Senate.
Only nine of 250 precincts statewide — none of them on the Big Island — went for the Trump/Pence ticket.
Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, chairman of the state Democratic Party, notes that the Democratic slate also had an increase in votes. In addition, he said, the Democrats gained another seat in the state Legislature.
“As we look at the difference in the 2020 vs. 2016 results, we should also note the reduction of third-party voters,” Dos Santos-Tam said in an email response. “It’s possible that many of the Constitution or Libertarian voters from 2016 may have chosen Trump in 2020, which means that the number of ‘newly activated’ Trump voters may be smaller than the raw topline numbers may indicate.”
West Hawaii remains the island’s largest Trump base. But East Hawaii campaign efforts this election may have contributed to increasing numbers of voters choosing the Trump/Pence ticket. East Hawaii precincts showed an increase in votes for Trump, while most in West Hawaii actually decreased a little compared to 2016.
“A lot of people think the Republicans are haole who moved here, but that’s not the whole story,” said Kahiolani Papalimu, acting East Hawaii County Chairwoman for the state Republican Party. “We are the party of Prince Kuhio.”
Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, a prince of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was the first Hawaii Republican elected to Congress, she noted. The party’s efforts brought more young Hawaiians to the polls, many of whom hadn’t voted before, she said.
Papalimu said there was an extensive GOP visibility campaign on the island, to help let people know there are still Republicans in the state.
“We went wide on social media. We were out there sign waiting,” she said. “We talk to people and get them to come on board and show what we can do if we encourage them to stand up. … The goal was to be visible to inspire them, to give them courage to engage in what was a very contested election.”
What started as a small group of 20 sign-waving in East Hawaii grew to more than 170, she said. A caravan campaign, not sponsored by the party but promoted by it, blossomed from 11 vehicles to more than 50, she said.
Dos Santos-Tam remained skeptical of a future large GOP swell.
“Running an effective political party or advancing a movement takes more than just driving around honking horns and sporting banners,” he said. “Notably, the supposed Trump enthusiasm didn’t translate into putting up candidates for local office: there were no Republican candidates in four of the seven Hawaii Island House Districts, and there was not a Republican candidate in the lone Hawaii Island State Senate District up for election in 2020.”