Analysis: Can Hillary Hold On in Western PA? (Maps)

Pennsylvania is splitting in two.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve written about quite a bit as western PA has trended Republican and eastern PA trended Democratic over the past few decades.

I call this the Appalachia/Acela divide.

One of the more intriguing facets of this shift is the fact that most of the voters in western PA who have abandoned the Democrats in presidential and other elections are actually still members of the Democratic Party.

The following is a map with all counties where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans colored in blue:

2016 Voter Registration 1

In 2012, that map held up almost perfectly in eastern PA but in western PA every one except Allegheny and Erie switched over to the GOP.

2012 map

It had been my assumption, and the belief of others, that this trend would continue with Hillary Clinton as the nominee. But has it?

For example, in last April’s primary Clinton outperformed Trump in eight counties, including Beaver and Fayette (Sanders finished with more votes than Clinton and Trump in Centre County, home of Penn State).

2016 Hillary vs Donald

I found this a bit surprising. Those counties are supposed to be the white working class Rust Belt areas that Trump is depending on. In fact, MSNBC recently did a segment on this phenomenon in Beaver County of all places.

Another assumption was that the white working class Appalachian voters that flocked to Hillary in the 2008 Democratic primary had switched over to Bernie. They did in West Virginia and Kentucky, but in Pennsylvania and Ohio they did not.

Hillary vs Obama Counties 2008
Obama-Green Hillary-Red
Hillary vs Bernie Counties
Hillary-Yellow Bernie-Green

What could account for this?

All four states held primaries and Clinton competed in every one of them except West Virginia. Perhaps some event intervened between the time Ohio and PA voted (March 15th and April 26th respectively) and the time West Virginia and Kentucky voted (May 3th and May 10th respectively)?

You’ll recall for instance that Clinton’s comment about putting coal miners “out of business” garnered a lot of attention and was considered a big issue in these contests. But Clinton said that on March 14th in Ohio and it didn’t hurt her there or in Pennsylvania over a month later.

It could be Clinton supporters returning, as Bill Clinton won many western PA counties in 1992 and 1996. If that were the case, though, then why didn’t this occur in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Additionally, as hard as it is to hear, 1996 was a long time ago. Babies born that year votd in last month’s primary for instance.

Maybe western PA is more steel than coal and more Rust Belt than Appalachia, and perhaps that is a subtle yet key difference.

Ultimately, it is still early in the general election process and primary results are often not a great indicator of what will happen in November. Nevertheless, if Clinton performs better than Barack Obama in western PA it would be extremely difficult for Donald Trump to pry away the Keystone State and its essential 20 electoral votes.  

11 Responses

  1. Thirty years of Richard Mellon Scaife spewing right-wing rhetoric in the newspapers of western/southwestern PA has had an impact on voting trends. Now that the 10+ smaller, local newspapers are being sold and no longer included in the Tribune Review Republican newspaper chain, perhaps folks in this area will receive more balanced news and opinions from their papers. For those who do not know of this right-wing millionaire who passed away a couple years ago, he was a major contributor to the Heritage Foundation and nearly single handedly funded the Whitewater witch hunt. Other than the Post-Gazette, he also controlled most of the newspapers in the region for many years.

  2. Crooked Hillary is going down fast. She lies like the con artist she is and Sanders is breathing down her neck. She has neither the energy nor the stamina to be the President. She’s a worn out old hag who needs to retire to the nursing home. She’s finished. She’s a hearth attack or a stroke away from being polished off. She won’t make it until November. Trumpy is our new President kiddies.

  3. Pete, maybe you are the lazy one. Nick clearly said “almost perfectly,” which would account for those two districts you had to so adamantly point out. Next time, don’t cherry-pick to try to prove fairytale points and inflate your ego.

  4. Although the article was interesting, I was hoping for analysis as to the numbers of Republicans re-registering Democrat in the 2016 primary and vice-versa. I understand that re-registration numbers were up but who did the new Democrats vote for (Sanders?) and who did the new Republicans vote for (Trump?). Then of course in November the question will be if the “former Rs and Ds” go back to their original party for the general election.

  5. Western PA has been less about coal for a while now, and even steel politics has declined, even though this is principally evident in Allegheny County. Steel politics mainly expresses itself on trade issues. In WV and KY, coal and manufacturing politics include trade, but they also focus on environmental politics, which is nowhere near as prominent in western PA. With the growth of the tech sector in Pittsburgh, this changes more all the time in Allegheny County. Trump’s comments on bringing back coal and steel actually raised criticism in the city, where people were offended that he didn’t recognize “new Pittsburgh” and how we’ve moved on from old industries. Exurban counties will continue to buy into older coal and steel politics, but that fits into their population’s generally Republican views on guns, cultural issues etc. That will still express itself in this election, so Trump will do OK in Pittsburgh’s exurbs, but Allegheny County has moved on from more traditional Appalachhian politics. Since that is where all the people are, Clinton will benefit.

  6. The GOP state assembly has done its best to make PA population more “poorly educated”, which Trump loves so much and they stupidly return the admiration.

  7. Trump will not make only minor inroads in western PA. This will be a turnout election and if black voters don’t turn out in numbers close to 2012, Hillary will be in trouble in Ohio and possibly PA.

  8. Hey Nick, the map didn’t hold up “perfectly” as you claim in the east. Republicans took two of the counties that were majority democrat. Are you just lazy or are your democrat roots shining through here.

  9. Nafta and gay marriage is about as popular as the plague there. Parade around with that and she’s a loser for sure.

  10. So, after writing the entire article, he ends by stating that it is still too early to tell what will happen? Really? That makes the entire article useless jibberish that really means nothing.

  • Who are you voting for in the PA Supreme Court race?

    • Dan McCaffery (61%)
    • Carolyn Carluccio (37%)
    • Still undecided (2%)

    Total Voters: 344

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