Democrats in Pennsylvania think of the state as a Blue State. Republicans think of it as Purple. The Republicans are correct. Although Pennsylvania tends to “lean Democratic,” Republicans can and have won the state.
The last time a presidential election ended up with Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in the Republican column was in 1988 – George H.W. Bush against a weak Michael Dukakis. Any Pennsylvanian who is 28 or younger today might assume that the state always votes Democratic. Don’t be so sure.
Looking at the six presidential elections since, the Democrat/Republican split in the Pennsylvania vote is far closer than we’d think. No Republican has won Pennsylvania in these contests, but the margin of victory is as little as 150,000 votes. Pennsylvania is about to be swamped with political ads, robocalls, door knockers, and blog posts (like this one), because the state would be an absolute plum for the Trumpers and a must-win for Clinton.
The Democrats can usually count on winning the cities – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, and perhaps Scranton, while the Republicans are left with all of the rest. The quote attributed to James Carville, “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” is not far off. Pennsyltucky. Journalist Tom Ferrick wrote an excellent breakdown of just how Trump could (but probably won’t) win Pennsylvania.
After Obama was first elected in 2008, the Democrats seemed to think “mission accomplished” and, for whatever reason, stayed home in 2010. The Republicans didn’t. The State House and Senate turned BRIGHT RED, along with a Republican governor to succeed Ed Rendell. Immediately, when not chipping away at abortion rights or giving tax breaks and subsidies to their wealthy patrons, the Republicans thought of how they might suppress the Democratic vote to ensure continued Republican wins. Witness Voter ID requirements and similar new burdens enacted throughout the Republican-controlled states. (Alternately, Democratic-controlled states are looking at increasing voter registration through Motor/Voter laws, even automatic registration on 18th birthday.)
In 2010, Corbett beat a Democrat no one remembers by about 350,000 votes. In that same election, the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat went to Pat Toomey (over Joe Sestak) by a margin of only 80,200 votes – out of almost 4,000,000 cast. That’s close! (Toomey was formerly president of the ironically named Club for Growth, an organization which opposed every measure put forth by both Bush and Obama to help recover the economy. Club for Growth’s answer to the Great Recession: “I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it. You’re all on your own.”)
Whichever party controls the State General Assembly in the beginning of a decade (a la 2010) gets to redraw Congressional districts. The Republicans swept into office in the 2010 elections were the ones who got to control who gets to vote in which district, thereby ensuring their own re-election in years to come and keeping Democratic voters to a majority in as few districts as possible. This PDF map shows the pure art form that is Republican district mapping. Take special note of the districts around the major urban areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This accounts for the fact that Pennsylvania’s contingent to the U. S. House of Representatives is made up of only 5 Democrats but 13 Republicans, despite being a majority Democratic state. The fix is in, and will be for many years to come. Unless the Democratic Party can reclaim the General Assembly by 2020 (improbable), the Republicans will continue to control the state government for at least another decade.
The Sixth District (above) is a work of art. Spans four counties to ensure a majority Republican vote for the next several centuries.
If you don’t know whether you are eligible to vote in Pennsylvania, click here for the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Voter Registration services. It’s quick and easy.
Here are the results from Pennsylvania over the last six presidential contests compared to national votes.
Bill Clinton won his 1992 race, but benefitted in large part from the insurgent campaign of Ross Perot. George H.W. Bush might easily have won re-election but for Perot.
|1992||Total U.S.||Percentage||Electoral Votes||Total PA||Percentage|
In 1996, Clinton increased his vote total, while the Republican total remained flat. Insurgent voters seem to have cooled on Perot, with perhaps some of them ending up in Clinton’s column. Still, Clinton was re-elected easily.
|1996||Total U.S.||Percentage||Electoral Votes||Total PA||Percentage|
The 2000 election was the one that went all the way to the Supreme Court. While Al Gore did compile a larger number of national votes, the all-important Electoral vote came down to the state of Florida (hanging chads). Whoever won this last state would win the presidency.
|2000||Total U.S.||Percentage||Electoral Votes||Total PA||Percentage|
Having endured the questionable 2000 election and the questionable invasion of Iraq, suddenly over 20,000,000 more voters came out of the woodwork for the 2004 race. Even so, the results were very close in the total of votes. Notice also that W won both times with a narrow victory in electoral votes.
|2004||Total U.S.||Percentage||Electoral Votes||Total PA||Percentage|
The miracle of Obama’s first campaign was in getting millions more voters registered and getting them to the polls. Note that the Republican votes are down 2,000,000, while the Democrats total was UP by over 10,000,000.
|2008||Total U.S.||Percentage||Electoral Votes||Total PA||Percentage|
In 2012, Obama suffered voter disaffection, largely because of the historic Republican obstruction in Congress and the blowout Republican wins in the 2010 midterm elections. Even so, he was able to overcome a Romney challenge – but note how close the vote totals were. Even though Republicans were generally dissatisfied with Mitt Romney, they turned out in large numbers to pull the Republican lever.
|2012||Total U.S.||Percentage||Electoral Votes||Total PA||Percentage|
More dry numbers: As of the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania had 9,910,224 citizens of voting age. Of those, 8,508,015 were registered to vote (a healthy percentage), yet only 5,753,670 of us actually turned out.
As of this week, the breakdown of voter registration:
427,374 All others
I SUSPECT (and I have no data to back this up) that a large portion of the unaffiliated are disaffected Republicans (like myself) who left the party because of recent events. This would be BEFORE the campaign of Donald Trump. So if they were disaffected before, they should be even more so now.
Donald Trump has managed to offend and antagonize virtually all groups of people except undereducated, older, white men. Yes, there are the exceptions that prove the rule, but by and large his base is what it is. The Democrats, seeing this, are fashioning an even larger tent to include Republicans unwilling to vote for Trump. More and more top-level Republicans are indicating that they may, just this once, vote for a Democrat, rather than allow Trump to embarrass us all for the next four years. I would suggest that this is exactly the way to go.
A sample of conservative columnists who agree:
Daniel Payne, The Federalist
Andrew Weinstein, Wall Street Journal
Donald Brand, Fortune
Both techniques were brought to bear in Pennsylvania. The new Republican majority “packed” blue-leaning voters into a handful of districts around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then it “cracked” the rest into districts that tilted red.
Drawing the Line
How redistricting turned America from blue to red.
By Elizabeth Kolbert