Seems so obvious, but to my friends who are thinking about running for election in 2022, please remember that elections are decided by the people who show up at the polls.
According to the state Office of Elections, there were 832,466 Hawai‘i residents registered to vote in 2020, though just 579,165, or 69.6% of those people, actually voted.
What do those 579,165 voters actually look like?
According to national statistics, the most reliable voter is over 65 years old, with 64% of them voting on a regular basis. Those 45 to 64 years vote 55% of the time.
In the middle of the voting pack are, predictably those in the middle of the age group: Those 35 to 44 years old have a voting rate of 44%.
The least reliable voter is 18 to 24 years old, with only 30% of them taking the time to show up on election day. The millennial in the 25 to 34 year old group are at 37%.
Source: U.S. News and Word Report (money.usnews.com/money/retirement/aging/articles/why-older-citizens-are-more-likely-to-vote)
OK. We know now that a majority of people who vote are not young people. But what else do we know about the people who vote?
The U.S. Census Bureau says that “eligible voters” in Hawai‘i are:
40% Asian, 27.5% White, 19.1% two or more races, 9.2% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 8.8% Hispanic or Latino, 2.1% Black or African American, 0.0% Native American or Alaska Native.
Source: Stacker (nptelegraph.com/news/voter-demographics-of-every-state/collection_f38c7a0a-6009-59a8-99b3-d8781fbb9a67.html#1)
The conclusion, which of course every person who holds elective office already knows, is that older voters of Asian descent are a critically important voting group in almost every district in the state of Hawai‘i.
A greater, more-important conclusion is that, in general, no candidate can win election with only a narrow “base,” whether it be by “issue” or age, ethnic or other demographic — as no base is large enough (by definition 50% plus one voter). The exception to the rule is when there is a “crowded primary” with no clear front-runner, but that anomaly is for a future discussion.
Many candidates are often focused on a “single issue,” or perhaps a handful of issues. They are passionate about and perhaps even an expert on “their issues,” but often “their issues” and those issues most important to the district in which they hope to be elected are different. The candidate may lay awake at night thinking about environmental protection, while the voters in their district may only think about the horrendous traffic they have to face the next morning.
For candidates, the challenge is always about expanding their base, and the first step is understanding the demographics of the district. The second is stepping out of one’s comfort zone and engaging with people who are not your “natural constituent” or from the same demographic group.
The only real way for a candidate to expand their reach into the variety of voting blocks necessary to win most elections in Hawai‘i is to reach out and engage in face-to-face conversations. While in the time of COVID this has been a challenge, during a normal election this translates to ole-fashion, door-to-door campaigning.
When a candidate knocks on a door, introduces himself or herself and actually LISTENS to a voter, the impact is huge. When a candidate comes back a second time and actually remembers the voter’s name and the issue that is important to them, he or she will most certainly gain the support and vote of that person.
A thoughtful, long-term and persistent door-to-door campaign can overcome all obstacles. If a candidate is authentic in their passion to serve, demonstrates basic competence on the issues, and is willing to actually get out in the community and connect with people outside their own bubble, they can win.
Final election tip of the day: Do not fall into the trap of thinking aggressive use of social media is going to get you elected, or that it reaches “everybody,” because it won’t and it doesn’t.
According to Pew Research 2019 data:
w Only 70% of Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves.
w Only 40% of those over 65 years old use social media regularly.
Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i and served eight years in the state Senate where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.