- Special Projects
Donald Trump lost badly to Democrat Hillary Clinton in Hawaii, only pulling in 29.4 percent of votes statewide, but he outperformed previous Republican nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney when they ran against Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Trump’s upset win nationally still has many mainland pollsters, pundits and politicos trying to deduce what went wrong in their prognostications.
What’s clear on the national scale is that Trump did well among white male voters, especially those with less than a college education. A recent analysis by The Washington Post said he also received the votes of more white women than expected.
So any analysis of the results circles around the touchy subjects of race and ethnicity. How did that play out in Hawaii, one of the most racially diverse states in the union?
A Civil Beat analysis of election results and U.S. Census data found that Trump tended to do well in some of the most affluent parts of the state, where many tourist accommodations are located. They include parts of the Princeville and Hanalei area on Kauai; Kapalua, Kaanapali and Wailea on Maui; and the Kailua-Kona area on Hawaii Island.
On Oahu, Trump did best on the Leeward Coast and the North Shore.
“We’re no longer middle-class in Hawaii. Our state is pretty wiped out because nobody really wants to stand up for our taxpayers. We’ve been drained, and our blood gets sucked up by the Democrats.” —Trump supporter Marissa Kerns
Trump did well in districts with lots of white people and in some cases areas with a lot of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, as well as anywhere with a large military presence.
Kimo Sutton, who was a co-director of Trump’s Hawaii campaign, dismissed the notion that white voters propelled his candidate into the presidency as liberal “Kool-Aid” that’s being pushed by mainstream media outlets.
Instead, Sutton said Trump’s anti-establishment message and his promise of a more prosperous economy probably resonated with Hawaii voters, especially given the state’s high cost of living and single-party dominance by Democrats.
“Donald Trump touched a nerve with the people who were voting for him,” Sutton said. “I saw early on that he was an outsider and not an insider, like what we have in all of Hawaii. You have a lot of people who are upset at the present conditions.”
Here’s a map of the precinct-by-precinct results statewide. The white spots have no population, the Hawaii Office of Elections said:
Trump only won a handful of precincts in Hawaii, including on Oahu’s North Shore around Kahuku and Laie. The billionaire also took the tiny “forbidden island” of Niihau, which is populated mostly by Native Hawaiians. In fact, nearly 60 percent of the island’s voters went for Trump, the highest percentage in the state.
On the Big Island, Trump fared decently (almost 38 percent) in the Kailua-Kona area, where there are more whites (60 percent) than Asians Hawaiians other Pacific Islanders. The area is currently represented by Democrat legislators, but has in the past had GOP representation.
Trump pulled about the same percentage of votes in the Ocean View area. State House District 5, which includes Ocean View, Naalehu, Captain Cook, Kealakekua and parts of Kailua-Kona, has a 60 percent white population.
Trump also performed well in Makaha and especially Nanakuli on Oahu’s Leeward Coast and farther east into Kapolei and Makakilo. And he held his own against Clinton in the Ewa area and the neighborhoods on, next to or near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The ethnicity is mixed in these areas, but there are many military personnel and their dependents. Hawaii’s veteran population is about 10 percent of the entire voting population and most live on Oahu. State Rep. Bob McDermott, a veteran and Republican, has long represented the greater Ewa area and Iroquois Point.
Marissa Kerns lives in Waianae in a house overlooking the ocean near Pokai Bay. The fervent Trump supporter organized campaign activities in West Oahu and other parts of the island. She even flew to New Hampshire in the waning days of the election to sign-wave and work phone banks.
Kerns is a former small business owner and Filipino immigrant who moved to Hawaii in 1988. Her support for Trump, she said, is largely due to her concern about the economy and a lack of jobs, particularly on Oahu’s west side where census data shows at least one in four people lives below the poverty line.
“We’re no longer middle-class in Hawaii,” Kerns said. “Our state is pretty wiped out because nobody really wants to stand up for our taxpayers. We’ve been drained, and our blood gets sucked up by the Democrats.”
While Kerns said she’s financially secure, she worries about others in her community. When she looks out her window she sees a growing homeless population and families that are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Like other Trump supporters who want to “drain the swamp,” Kerns has particular disdain for Hawaii’s establishment politicians, most of whom are Democrats. She says they often only work for their own self-interests or those of their friends, who might share cozy relationships with lobbyists and campaign contributors.
There is also an ethnic bent to Kerns’ criticism. She cited the “local Japanese elitists” who she believes are over-represented in Hawaii’s power structures, from the state Capitol to the education system.
She pointed to Gov. David Ige and Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, both of whom are Japanese-American, as examples.
“Our state is run by Japanese,” Kerns said. “We don’t have the diversity.”
Some of Trump’s strongest support came in Precinct 47-03 on Oahu’s North Shore, where he received nearly 51 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 34 percent. It includes Waimea, Pupukea, Kahuku and Laie. Historically, the Mormon church and Brigham Young University have been influential in Laie. This is where Romney, a Mormon, did best in 2012.
The precinct is part of state House District 47, which stretches from Waialua to Kaaawa. The white population is estimated to be more than 57 percent, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders at 41 percent and Asians just below 38 percent. (Race is counted as “alone or in combination,” which explains why the total exceeds 100 percent.)
While Hawaii’s Republican Party has long been in the minority, it has sometimes succeeded in electing state representatives from this region, which encompasses North Shore and Windward Oahu.
Boyd Ready is a landscape contractor and certified arborist who lives on the North Shore. He’s also the secretary for Hawaii’s Republican Party. He said it’s instructive to think of Rust Belt voters (Trump unexpectedly won Pennsylvania and is still expected to win a tight Michigan race) when looking at North Shore Trump support.
He said there are a lot of independent tradesmen and small business owners in the area who don’t have the “safety net” of a week-to-week paycheck or public employees union membership. Their interaction with government agencies tend to be less frequent, and not always pleasant.
“Anybody who’s in that situation tends to be a little more vigilant and unhappy with the complexities of life that are decided upon by the powers that be,” Ready said. “It’s kind of like living in the country, where people go to be independent and a little adventurous. That’s the sort of person that seems to be a little more disinclined by the status quo. Trump is seen as anti-status quo.”
Nathan Paikai is a Native Hawaiian minister and one of the Trump campaign’s most visible supporters as a director of his political campaign here. When Paikai looks at Trump he sees the face of someone who can heal the nation, and whose family values resonated with the people who lived here, particularly along parts of the Leeward Coast where he said there are a lot of evangelicals.
Paikai described Trump and his family as “humble” despite their collective wealth.
Like other Trump backers, Paikai said the media is to blame for taking Trump’s comments on race and ethnicity out of context, such as when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals while adding that “some, I assume, are good people.” He also said the allegations lodged against Trump about sexually assaulting women were overblown.
Paikai said Trump spoke to his heart.
“They call me Prophet Nathan,” Paikai said. “That’s a title that God has granted me. And when he asked me, before Mr. Trump decided to run, he spoke to me in the night and said, ‘This is my son Donald. He loves me. I love him. Back him up.’ I said, ‘OK, God. If this is you then make me the leader of the Trump team in Hawaii.'”