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Behind the GOP Voter Surge in PA

Donald-TrumpThe Pennsylvania Republican Party has experienced a surge in membership over the past year.

This phenomenon has been used as evidence that Donald Trump is resonating in the Keystone State. This weekend, Politico Magazine published yet another study of a traditionally Democratic town that is anxious for The Donald to “Make America Great Again”.

All the while, Trump has been close to Clinton in PA polls recently.

After digging into the voter registration numbers, it is entirely possible that Trump could win Pennsylvania’s twenty electoral votes come November. The idea that he is single-handedly changing PA’s electorate, though, has little support.

As I’ve written ad nauseam, the famous apocryphal comment that Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Alabama in the middle is no longer accurate (if it ever was).

Instead, Pennsylvania is a tale of two states. The western half is rural. It was home to countless Steel plants and union Democrats. The eastern half is suburban, college-educated and was once a hotbed of Rockefeller Republicans.

The Western half, Appalachia, has become increasingly conservative. More Midwestern than Northeastern, residents are fervently anti-trade as they see it as the cause of the downfall of the industry that once employed them.

The eastern half, Acela, began turning Democratic in the 1990’s. It’s closer to New York than the middle of the state, both literally and figuratively. The cosmopolitan and economically prosperous Southeast is the pivotal swing portion of the commonwealth.

Despite all this, though, the Southwest still contains a great deal of registered Democrats. West Virginia and eastern Kentucky also contain a large number of Democrats who feel betrayed by the party.

The reason is as much historical and it is cultural. From the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, the South transitioned from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. The upper Appalachian areas were the last to change.

There could be many culprits for this but my best guess would be the United Mine Workers union and its influence in this coal-heavy region. Eventually, though, that business began to die out and the UMW went from backing Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis to refusing to endorse Barack Obama in 2012.

For example, there are nine Southwestern counties where Dems still have a voter registration edge.

2016 Voter Registration 1

Pres. Obama won one, Allegheny home to Pittsburgh, four years ago.

2012 map

Dave Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight has charted the degree to which the region has flocked to Republicans since 2008.

FiveThirtyEight PA Voter Registration

So if Trump is really changing the Pennsylvania electorate, the voter registration shift should be taking place in large numbers outside of the Southwest.

That hasn’t really been the case. From May 2015 to April 2016, the gap between registered Dems and registered Republicans narrowed by 63,406.

About half of those gains, 30,860, came from the nine Southwestern counties.

To put that in perspective, let’s look at the SEPA counties where Dems hold a registration advantage (Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and, of course, Philadelphia). Altogether the Democrats increased their lead by 29,482 voters in that region, nearly canceling out the GOP’s gains in the Southwest. On top of that, if you include Chester County the Dems added 31,360.

In fact, Chester was the only county where Republicans hold a registration advantage yet Democrats gained ground over the last year. A mere six counties total are bluer now than a year ago, with only Centre (State College) and Dauphin (Harrisburg) being outside the Southeast.

Dem Gains

One underrated area of concern for Democrats, though, is the Northeast and Lehigh Valley. Seven of those counties have a Dem voter registration edge and Obama won five of them in 2012, yet Republicans gained 19,943 members in that area. Although a substantial amount of them came from Luzerne County, home of Wilkes-Barre, so it may be a case of one city changing rather than the whole region.

Overall, there’s little evidence to suggest that Donald Trump is altering the Keystone State, but that doesn’t mean that the commonwealth isn’t changing.  

8 Responses

  1. Many moderate republicans, some well known even, have moved to the democrat side over the last 10 years.

  2. Elections are rigged…THere are more registered and active voting D’s in the state, but since the 2011 redistricting, 15 out of 18 congressional districts have Republican congressman…Looking at the weird shapes of the districts screams GERRYMANDERING. Same is true for the State Legislature. And how many run unopposed!! Dems have no say, so many are switching to R so they can be heard. As long as legislators choose their own voters, we won’t have fair elections. Time to change how/who draws the districts.

  3. Everything is different this year, nick.

    Your party is going to nominate a two-bit grifter. It’s not like other years. He’s got no qualifications for the job. And he is a con-man. That makes you a dupe !!!!

  4. whooppty doooo

    my district is so gerrymandered (it is considered the worst gerrymandered district in America) that my vote is meaningless.

    I’ve been hearing about the Dem ‘advantage’ in registration for years and yet we get killed constantly because the 7th congressional district (not to mention 161st) looks like a blind child tried to draw a cup one day.

    Yea, so, statewide perhaps that stuff may matter every few years but with the Koch’s backing so many gerrymandered districts, who gives a steaming pile of bung b/c the state is still an utter disaster.

  5. Militant Republican Moderate-

    The “dead” don’t vote in Philly, or anywhere else.

    Philly has 125,000 InActive voters.

    Only one of them is flagged as voted in April primary, because the person moved/became-inactive in the past two months.

    The only time you see a vote for dead person is when the clerks accidentally hand an old widow her husband’s slip by mistake, and she signs it instead of her own.

    You are in my opinion, mentally ill and showing signs of dementia.

  6. Active voters is what people should be focusing on. Although dead people are the most reliable Democrat voters in Philadelphia.

  7. Nick-

    Registration counts for Active voters based on CURRENT (June 20th 2016 statewide snapshot) registration and year registered:

    Year Dems Reps
    2014 72,399 52,612
    2015 90,104 68,373
    2016 126,351 94,940

    Any closing of the “GAP” between D’s and R’s is due to attrition of voters moving/dying-off and may include the InActive voter counts, which should not be used for any analysis except level of cleanup needed.

    The results of the past 2.5 years show clearly that over 70,000 more voters have registered Dem than Rep.

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