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A Look at Bucks: PA’s Most Critical Swing County (Maps)

Pennsylvania is set to be one of the most contentious swing states this year.

The Trump campaign believes their Rust Belt strategy can work and there’s been deep disagreement among Democrats about whether it’s necessary to spend some of their resources defending the Keystone State.

Meanwhile, some of the best political prognosticators in the business are watching PA and even calling it the potential “tipping point” in the electoral college.

As I’ve noted, western PA has grown increasingly redder over the years, an encouraging sign for Republicans. In reality, though, while that trend and other areas of the commonwealth will be important factors, the state’s fate electoral fate ultimately lies in the Southeast.

The “collar counties” of Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery that surround Philadelphia have all voted Democratic since 1992 and been a crucial factor in the commonwealth going blue in the last six presidential elections.

Besides Philly and Allegheny (Pittsburgh) Counties, these three are the most populous in the state. Additionally, behind Chester they are ranked second, third and fourth in per capita income.

Voter Registration

Furthermore, recent voting registration statistics provide even more good news for Democrats, as several SEPA counties, especially Montgomery, are becoming bluer. Bucks County, however, is bucking that trend.

FiveThirtyEight PA Voter Registration

Since last year, the Dems voter registration advantage in Bucks went from 12,138 down to 11,108, a 1,030 vote gain for the GOP. It was also the only SEPA county to see Donald Trump accumulate more votes in the April primary than Hillary Clinton did.  

2016 Hillary vs Donald

More anecdotally, Dave Weigel of the Washington Post found discontent among Democratic residents back in May. Even FiveThirtyEight’s study of Facebook likes revealed that Bucks was the only SEPA county where Trump outranked Sanders.

FiveThirtyEight Facebook

History and Background

What makes this trend so significant is that while considered a swing county, Bucks has been incredibly consistent over the years.

From 1896 to 1988, it voted Republican in every presidential contest with just three exceptions:

1. 1912 – Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft split the Republican vote

2. 1936 – FDR crushes Alf Landon in a then-record landslide

3. 1964 – LBJ outdoes FDR in his rout of Barry Goldwater.

In 1992, though, everything suddenly changed. So who’s to say it can’t revert back?

Just like every state, each county has its own unique dynamics. As a Bucks native and a political junkie I’ve of course picked up on these.

The area is divided into Upper Bucks and Lower Bucks (never Northern and Southern, it’s an important, implicit difference). Upper Bucks tends to be wealthier and more Republican while Lower Bucks is working class and heavily Democratic.

If the pundits are correct then Lower Bucks, a haven of disaffected white working class voters, is the exact sort of place Trump should be making headway. There’s even a Levittown, symbol of the decayed 1950’s dream of suburbia. Could Trump appeal here?

Electoral Breakdown

We have voter district statistics going back to 2008, so I created a number of maps to showcase the political makeup of Bucks County. This is what the Barack Obama/John McCain match-up looked like that November.

Bucks 2008
Sky blue signifies Obama received 50%-53%, royal blue signifies Obama received 53%-58%, blue signifies Obama received 58%-63%, navy signifies Obama received 63% or more. Light salmon signifies McCain received 50%-53%, tomato signifies McCain received 53%-58%, red signifies McCain received 58%-63%, maroon signifies McCain received 63% or more. Yellow signifies ties.

Obama picked up 179,031 votes (54.37%) to McCain’s 150,248 votes (45.63%). As you can see, while Lower Bucks was his strongest area, the 44th President performed well everywhere.

Then in his 2012 re-election effort the President beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney 160,521 (50.62%) to 156,579 (49.38%).

Bucks 2012
Same color scheme with Romney replacing McCain.

Obviously, this race was much closer. In fact, Romney significantly outperformed his statewide numbers in Bucks by about three points (in 2008 the difference was about a point).

For some time, I thought this may have been attributable to the GOP nominee’s last minute push in the commonwealth. While SEPA had been ignored for most of that race, Romney visited Shady Brook Farm in Lower Makefield the Sunday before Election Day and drew a huge crowd. I always wondered if this might’ve boosted his numbers. Thanks to these maps, I can test that hypothesis.

2008 Shady Brook

2012 Shady Brook

Shady Brook is just south of the area where I-95 and 322 meet so there’s was some movement here but it wasn’t the sole or even main cause for the closer result (remember Lower Makefield, though, because it will become important later in this piece).

Instead it’s clear that it was in Upper Bucks where Romney picked up most of his votes. Specifically the suburbs around Doylestown, New Hope, Quakertown, Perkasie and Warminster. Nevertheless, Lower Bucks stayed blue and so did the county.  

Hillary and Bucks

Because of the former Secretary of State’s multiple presidential campaigns we can also test out how well she has performed in Bucks County.

In the 2008 primary, she easily defeated Barack Obama 71,757 (62.61%) to 42,860 (37.39%).

Obama vs Hillary Bucks
Sky blue signifies Clinton received 50%-53%, royal blue signifies Clinton received 53%-58%, blue signifies Clinton received 58%-63%, navy signifies Clinton received 63% or more. Lime signifies Obama received 50%-53%, lime green Obama received 53%-58%, green signifies Obama received 58%-63%, dark olive green signifies Obama received 63% or more. Yellow signifies ties.

With the exception of the middle part of the county, Clinton performed well everywhere. Her numbers in Lower Bucks were particularly impressive. The only three voting districts in that area that went against her were heavily black.

In 2016, though, it was a bit closer. Clinton pulled in 49,917 votes (56.47%) to Bernie Sanders’ 36,173 (43.53%).

Hillary vs Bernie Bucks
Same color scheme with Sanders replacing Obama.

As you can see, Hillary mostly hung on to Lower Bucks. She also easily won those black areas she lost in ‘08.

While she did well in the areas just outside of Doylestown, she didn’t win the city itself and also lost ground in Quakertown and Perkasie. In New Hope and Lower Makefield, however, she saw a noticeable improvement.

Hillary vs. Donald

Just after this April’s primary, the Inquirer created the following illustration to show which candidate received the most votes in each SEPA municipality. SEPA Map

I was able to break this down by voting district and find out in which areas Clinton and Sanders received a higher raw vote total than Trump.

2016 Hillary-Bernie-Donald
Once again, Clinton is blue, Sanders is green and yellow are ties.

Most of Lower Bucks still favors Clinton but there remains open avenues for the GOP nominee.

Analysis and Conclusion

As is visible in all these maps, Bucks County is politically fascinating. The working class lower section is mostly staying with the Democrats, while the more rural top is ripe with Republicans. The key then, appears to be in the middle of the county.

The most interesting finding of all, though, is just how closely Bucks is mirroring national trends.

Pew Research Center, the best and most respected polling firm in America, just released their latest findings wherein they compare the results of their June 2008, June 2012 and June 2016 presidential head-to-head surveys. The most seismic change in the electorate they found was not racial or economic but rather educational.

Education Pew

In 2008, Democrats were ahead thirteen points among high school graduates or less and up seven with those who received some college. On the other hand, Dems had just a one point advantage among college grads and a three point edge with postgrads.

In 2016, these results have almost completely flipped. Democrats have only a one point lead with those who got some college and a seven point advantage with high school graduates. When it comes to college grads, though, Dems are ahead by sixteen points and with postgrads it is twenty-seven.

At this point eight years ago, Pew showed Obama with an eight point lead (48/40). Today, they have Hillary ahead by nine (51/42).

So while Dems may be fading in Lower Bucks, they are also gaining ground in Upper Bucks.

Look again at New Hope and Newtown, as well as Upper and Lower Makefield in all of the maps I’ve presented here and then examine this one showing the median household income in Bucks.

Bucks Median Income
The darker the color, the higher the income in that area.

It is very possible that as working class whites are leaving the Democratic Party, highly educated whites are joining it. Long term, this would indicate that an electoral map of Bucks (and perhaps the country) will look quite different in a decade or so.

For now, though, victory remains very much in each party’s reach.

Clinton, for instance, must do better in places like Doylestown and Warminster. Luckily for her, the latter is the most Hispanic area of Bucks and the former the home of her local campaign office.

Trump, meanwhile, must try to win over Lower Bucks residents in areas like Levittown (which covers Falls and Middletown Townships). Bensalem looks particularly promising for him but there is one potential drawback as that township has a high concentration of Asian residents. Studies have shown Asian-Americans are put off by the Republican nominee and are moving even faster towards the Democratic Party.

Overall, there are plenty of challenges and opportunities for each candidate in Bucks County. The reward, though, remains enormous. If you can swing Bucks, you’re likely to take home Pennsylvania’s twenty electoral votes, and that could make all the difference come November 8th.

10 Responses

  1. Trump really has no path here at all. It’s interesting but many of the swing state vote the same way when it comes to married men, married women, unmarried men, & unmarried women. This is the key metric that will drive the 2016 race is married vs single.

    Based on the cals I’ve done Hillary is in position to win the state by 8-10. That’s based on an electorate that’s 77% white 13.5% black 6.5 % latino 2% Asian 1% other. When you model the state based on marriage /unmarried (using 2012 cnn exit poll figures& Pew’s new 16 baseline or these groups . Hillary by 9 is your number.

    PA 16
    D T PA difference
    Married Men 29.5 0.42 0.56
    Married Women 29.5 0.51 0.48
    Single Men 18 0.59 0.4
    Single Women 23 0.69 0.3

    12.39 16.52
    15.045 14.16
    10.62 7.2
    15.87 6.9
    53.925 44.78


    Then you break out by White degree/no degree vs all races you get Hillary by 7.8

    Dems Trump Other Dems Trump Other
    White No Degree 35 0.355 0.615 0.03 12.425 21.525 1.05
    White Degree 42 0.49 0.47 0.04 20.58 19.74 1.68
    Hispanic 6.5 0.72 0.25 0.03 4.68 1.625 0.195
    Black 13.5 0.93 0.06 0.01 12.555 0.81 0.135
    Asian 2 0.71 0.26 0.03 1.42 0.52 0.06
    Other 1 0.65 0.32 0.03 0.65 0.32 0.03
    52.31 44.54 3.15

    non white 23 77 33.005 41.265 2.73
    19.305 3.275 0.42 0.428636364 0.535909091 0.035454545
    0.839347826 0.142391304 0.01826087

    Then do white men/white women & all races Hillary by 8.7

    Dems Trump Other Dems Trump Other
    White women 41 0.51 0.46 0.03 20.91 18.86 1.23
    White men 36 0.35 0.61 0.04 12.6 21.96 1.44
    Hispanic 6.5 0.72 0.25 0.03 4.68 1.625 0.195
    Black 13.5 0.93 0.06 0.01 12.555 0.81 0.135
    Asian 2 0.67 0.3 0.03 1.34 0.6 0.06
    Other 1 0.72 0.25 0.03 0.72 0.25 0.03
    52.805 44.105 3.09

    non white 23 77 33.51 40.82 2.67
    19.295 3.285 0.42 0.435194805 0.53012987 0.034675325
    0.838913043 0.142826087 0.01826087

  2. The reality is there no political opportunity here for Trump to win the state. In less than a few days the Dems voter advantage over the Republicans went from 914k to almost 918k. There’s no statistical evidence showing any path to a Trump win. Currently, the Dems represent 49% of voters while Republicans 38%. That’s a 11% point gap.

    The Qunnipiac polling that had this race tied in recent weeks has a demographic sample that’s 83% white, 8% black, 4% Hispanic, & 5% other. Qunnpiac has a live phone (Cell/landline) model that weights their data based on randomization of calling numbers (between 6pm & 9pm). Based on education obtainment levels of non whites they tend to have higher level of service jobs (later hours).

    The 2012 PA exit polling was 78% white , 13% black 6% hispanic.

    Overall Numbers
    As of 7/4/2016- the Dem over GOP voter registration gap is 917, 841. Dem 4,076,111 /GOP 3,158,270 /Indie /Other 1,097,728 –
    2016 New registration/change totals
    DEM 197, 174 to GOP 160,764/ Indie- 33,289
    Big Dem counties — registrations D/R/Indie Other
    Philly county – 808,315 119,536 80,826 25708
    Alleghany (Pittsburg) 521,020 248,244 66,265 44747
    Montgomery 261,735 210,179 39,666 42590

  3. It used to be that every four years we’d hear how Montgomery County was the national center of attention, with all the pundits focused on how it would go as an indicator of who would win PA and the election overall. But now that Montco is blue and getting bluer every year, all of a sudden it’s Bucks that becomes PA’s “critical swing county.”

    Hogwash. Montgomery County’s Democratic margin makes Bucks a nonissue. Despite all the attempts to make this race look close, by the time we get to November there will be at least a 15 point spread.

  4. Sandbag he may, but to suggest that Cordisco is “kept in power” ignores the fact that no one else wants the job. And until they make some comissioner or row office inroads, and neither you nor I are holding our breath on that one, no one will want the thankless unpaid role of dragging second rate county candidates to the finish line every two years.

  5. You did a nice job but you fail to accurately divide the county into its proper regions. When divided properly into upper, central (middle), and lower Bucks you split the dynamics more accurately. Upper bucks is growing more blue as the city of Allentown creates expanding suburban areas along the Northeast Extension. Then there is the coveted 8th District seat.
    This campaign is John Cordisco’s main event. He routinely sandbags county and state level races for his friends who keep him in power. Santarsero is one of those friends along with Diane Marseglia. The sandbag ginger of Brian Galloway last year will bite them in the backside in Lower Bucks. The influential Galloway family who is the stereotypical blue collar voter of Levittown/Fairless Hills/Bristol population. Their efforts could hurt the trump push into white disaffected blue collar voters that Hillary loses. However their enthusiasm may not be there for Hillary after John Cordisco’s sandbagged Galloway last year.

  • Does the NYC Verdict Make You More or Less Likely to Vote For Trump in 2024?

    • Less Likely (36%)
    • More Likely (34%)
    • Makes No Difference (30%)

    Total Voters: 112

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