Support for Republican candidates in Hawaii is still highest on Oahu’s North Shore, west side and in Ewa.

But support is also growing in parts of Central Oahu, as well as in Kona and in East Hawaii. In fact, the share of voters who are self identifying as Republicans was up in all corners of the state, according to a Civil Beat analysis of election results by precinct.

Those voters made up 22% of the more than 330,000 voters who cast ballots this election season. The GOP hasn’t seen that level of participation since the early 2000s.

“I think a lot of the increase in turnout was because of what people see on a national level, and they are just upset with it,” Brett Kulbis, the GOP’s Honolulu chair, said. He listed concerns like public schools and government handling of the pandemic.

Supporters and volunteers of the Republican party for Hawaii gather at the party headquarters in Honolulu on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by Ronen Zilberman
More voters across the state identified as Republicans compared to 2018. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2018

The party boosted its turnout in areas where Republicans already had a strong presence as well as in more rural parts of the state. The GOP didn’t do as well in areas of urban Honolulu.

Competitive races, or a chance to capture a seat from the Democrats, also played a role in boosting voter turnout among Republicans. Some party officials say they have more volunteers than in years past and have also increased their outreach efforts.

Republicans still make up a minority of voters across the state, amounting to an average of 23% of voters across all 51 House districts.

Races And Outreach

Turnout for the GOP didn’t rise equally across all House districts compared to 2018, the last time the governor’s office was on the ballot as was the case this year. The party boosted its numbers most in traditional Republican hotspots or in rural areas.

Parts of Ewa Beach, Kailua-Kona, Wahiawa, and Koolauloa saw big spikes in GOP voters since 2018, with turnout rising 15 to 20 percentage points in each of those districts.

Increases in Republican votes was more subtle in Waikiki, Kailua, Kakaako, Manoa and Nuuanu, rising about 5 to 6 percentage points.

House District 41 saw the biggest jump in Republican voter turnout, going from 12% in 2018 to 38% in 2022. It’s one of the few seats Republicans may actually be able to pick up this year after Democratic incumbent Rep. Matt LoPresti was arrested earlier this year on drunken driving charges.

He’s expected to face a tough race against Dave Alcos, the Republican nominee.

Reapportionment may have also had a role to play in the increased Republican voter turnout.

District 41 was redrawn earlier this year to cover areas between Ewa and Barbers Point. Previously, it mostly covered neighborhoods on the west side of Fort Weaver Road.

Campbell Industrial Park aerial Aulani Hotel Ihilani hotel.
A redrawn House District 41 in Ewa saw the biggest uptick in Republican voters this election season. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

A chunk of District 41 where LoPresti had a significant level of support was cut out of the district after reapportionment.

In the past, reapportionment has been used to chop up Republican districts and weaken support for GOP candidates. That’s what happened in Kona, where a reapportionment plan in 2001 eventually led to Republicans losing that district. It’s now an area where Republicans have gained more ground again.

Republican turnout jumped from 12% in 2018 to 29% this year in House District 7, which includes Kailua-Kona and stretches to the Pohakuloa training range in the east and Waikui in the north.

Dalene McCormick, the GOP’s West Hawaii county chair, said more people moved into the Kona district from the mainland. Another likely explanation is that Kona hosts just one of the island’s two in-person voting sites.

While most Republicans vote by mail in Hawaii, they are still more likely than other voters to cast ballots at in-person voting centers.

The GOP has also increased its outreach efforts. McCormick joined the party about six years ago; at the time she had just eight volunteers to help canvass half of the Big Island. Now, the GOP has 42 volunteers for West Hawaii.

She said the party has held more events, including some with conservative activist Scot Presler, which have allowed the party to register more people to vote.

Kulbis, the chair for the Oahu GOP, also said there have been more registration and other get out the vote efforts than in years past. In particular, Oahu Republicans have tried to forge closer relationships with faith groups. He guesses that areas that saw greater Republican turnout may also have more churches.

Candidates Help Bolster Turnout

It’s hard to point to any one characteristic or set of characteristics to describe what a Republican district looks like in Hawaii.

Those areas tend to be rural. House District 47 on Oahu has the highest percentage of Republican voters this year at 41%. The district starts in Waialua and runs along the North Shore to Kahuku and then goes south, capturing communities between Laie and Kahana.

But demographics and socioeconomic markers vary greatly between conservative leaning districts.

Census data shows that residents in District 47 earn bachelors degrees at rates higher than the state average, currently at 31%. But that’s not true of all Republican-leaning districts.

House District 44, which includes Honokai Hale, Nanakuli and Maili, saw 38% of voters go Republican. Residents in that district earn bachelor degrees at rates far lower than the state average.

Income also isn’t a great indicator of political affiliation here. Data shows households in Ewa typically earn at or slightly above the median household income for the state, at about $83,000. Others in Hawaii Kai, another heavily Republican district, reported earning far more than that.

Competitive races or popular candidates like BJ Penn were more likely to attract Republican voters this election season. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

On the other hand, wealthier areas are now less likely to vote for Republicans, according to University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore.

GOP turnout was lowest in Manoa, where just 11% of voters cast ballots in Republican races. That’s followed by Nuuanu, Hilo, Wilhelmina rise and St. Louis Heights, Kahala, and Ala Moana and Kakaako.

“We see what’s happening nationally is similar here, growth is in the working class areas … and areas like wealthy suburbs, as we are seeing on the mainland, is really losing a share of voters,” Moore said.

One example is in House District 24 — Waikiki. It was once a Republican stronghold but saw the lowest growth of GOP voters between 2018 and 2022. Republican turnout rose just 5 percentage points.

The area once attracted relatively well-off retirees that helped drive the conservative politics in the area. Moore said the demographics may have changed or those voters may have been moderates that didn’t agree with the direction the party was going under Donald Trump.

Support for Trump grew in 2020, especially on Oahu’s west side. Areas that saw greater increases in Republican turnout may have also been “energized by non-traditional GOP candidates,” Moore said.

“Like BJ Penn and Gary Cordery,” he said, “who spoke to their issues and represented a part of the Republican party that doesn’t often get a voice at the top of the ticket.”

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