Joe Biden won Hawaii in the 2020 general election, but support for Donald Trump also appears to have grown in the Aloha State, especially on Oahu, since the last presidential election in 2016.
On election night Tuesday, large national media outlets and The Associated Press declared Biden’s victory in Hawaii early in the evening, even before the state’s results were posted and polls were closed on Oahu. Its election-calling mechanisms found Hawaii to be so predictably Democrat that Trump couldn’t possibly win.
A record number of Hawaii voters — about 580,000 — cast their ballots this general election and with that record turnout, the state has remained predominantly blue. But the latest election data also shows an influx in votes for the Republican president, and Trump won more precincts in Hawaii this year than in 2016.
Here are some things we learned through analyzing the presidential election results.
More than 196,000 people in Hawaii cast their ballots — just shy of 34% of the votes — for President Donald Trump, which makes him the top Republican vote-getter in Hawaii.
A close second was former President George W. Bush who, in 2004, received about 194,000 votes in the Aloha State against Democratic candidate John Kerry. Bush won the presidency.
But just because he got the most votes doesn’t mean he was the most popular. Plenty of other Republican candidates were successful in gaining larger shares of the vote, including Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Richard Nixon in 1972 when they each took the majority in Hawaii.
Trump also outperformed this year compared with the previous presidential election by about 4%.
In 2016, when he won enough electoral votes to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he received 128,847 votes in Hawaii, enough for 30%. Clinton still trounced him in Hawaii, receiving 266,891 votes, or 62.2%.
Former Vice President Joe Biden similarly beat Trump in 2020, gaining about 63% of the vote to his 34%, a testament to the Democratic Party’s dominance in the islands.
The relatively big showing for Trump in Hawaii was thanks in part to areas like Mililani, Makakilo, Ewa Beach, Waikele, Waipahu and Kapolei. But those precincts weren’t always Trump strongholds. They were still fairly blue in 2016.
Here’s a comparison map. Use the slider arrow at the bottom to compare:
Why the west side though? That’s a question we don’t have answers to yet.
The results right now only reveal precinct-level vote counts, which don’t tell us much beyond where the votes came from.
In Hawaii, there’s a lack of long-term voter survey or detailed data to understand who’s turning out for what reason, says Ngoc Phan, an assistant professor of political science at Hawaii Pacific University.
“We have a lot of unanswered questions about the basic things that motivate voters in Hawaii,” she said.
Here’s what we do know, she said: The Trump supporters on Oahu are very mobilized and vocal. They were holding rallies daily for weeks before the election, which could have really mobilized his base here.
Bob McDermott, a Republican legislator who represents Ewa, Ewa Beach and Iroquois Point, says the west side has a lot of people to whom faith is very important. There are many Filipino immigrants with conservative values.
Many of the precincts where Trump won also include areas where military families working for Hawaii’s bases live.
Trump fared well again on the forbidden island of Niihau, which is populated almost exclusively by Native Hawaiians. In fact, all 43 votes cast in the 2020 presidential election went to him. Niihau also voted overwhelmingly for him in 2016.
The island is part of Kauai County, and the only precinct in the county where Trump managed a sure victory. The president received nearly 35% of the vote overall in Kauai County.
Trump outperformed John McCain and Mitt Romney — the last Republican who ran for president — and tended to do well in the most affluent parts of the state, including Princeville and Hanalei on Kauai; Kapalua, Kaanapali and Wailea on Maui; and the Kailua-Kona area on Hawaii island.
While there were certainly votes from those areas in 2020 — perhaps even larger numbers because of the sheer increase in turnout — Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island remained mostly blue. Results show Trump did not win a single precinct in Maui County but got 31% of the vote there overall.
Here is a visual comparison of how support for each candidate differed in Hawaii. Red represents the extent of support for President Donald Trump, while blue represents support for former Vice President Joe Biden. Again, use the arrow:
The higher turnout for Trump in Hawaii didn’t necessarily amount to Republican legislators getting elected.
The 2020 general election did very little to change the partisan makeup. Republicans actually lost a seat in the House, though Sen. Kurt Fevella kept the lone GOP seat in the 25-member Senate.
Phan says Trump supporters appear to be loyal to him and not the Republican Party. So the high turnout for him is an affirmation of Donald Trump and not necessarily evidence that the party is growing stronger in Hawaii.
“The Republican Party in Hawaii will continue to struggle to mount opposition to the Democratic Party in Hawaii,” she said.
McDermott said Trump is a polarizing figure — “a lightning rod, both for and against” — and that’s motivated people from all sides of the aisle.
“I think that enthusiasm for Trump helped Republicans in a sense, but it was wiped out by the overwhelming participation of a mostly Democratic state, so it ended up being a wash,” he said.
Results from at least one local race suggest there could have been a Trump bump against a Democrat.
In Honolulu City Council’s District 9, first-time candidate Augie Tulba, a comedian, defeated former Democratic legislator Will Espero, who has a history of progressive politics.
While that’s a nonpartisan race, large numbers of voters — again, on the west side of Oahu — who turned out for Trump also voted to elect the entertainer over the veteran state senator.
It also turns out Trump outright won only about a dozen precincts in Hawaii and five of them overlap with District 9, where Tulba also won.
The council member-elect also caused some online chatter when his brother was seen wearing a Make America Great Again hat. He has neither confirmed nor denied being a supporter of the president, saying he would represent both Democrats and Republicans.
McDermott, however, doesn’t think it was the Trump boost that tipped Tulba, who he says has been giving back to his community for years, over to victory. “It’s not an overnight success,” he said.
2020 presidential election results by precinct (Keep in mind that the total votes are for the entire election and don’t necessarily represent total votes for the presidential race):
2016 presidential election results by precinct:
Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube contributed to this report.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.
The truth is that less than 1% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.
Will you consider becoming a new donor today?