Before I plunge into the darkness, I want to pull out from the 58 remaining counties in Pennsylvania the two or three remaining bright spots for the Democratic Party. Unsurprisingly the transformation of Dauphin and Centre, the counties I will examine briefly, is the result of increased diversity and higher levels of education.
Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania, and is found in Dauphin County, almost exactly 100 miles west of Philadelphia, just beyond Lancaster and Berks County, the counties I discussed in the last entry. it is another of the minority of counties in Pennsylvania that are growing in population, having gained almost 5,000 new souls in the five years since 2010, for a total of 272,983 residents. The percentage of White (Not Hispanic) residents has declined by about 4,000 people in that period, from 70.1% of the total in 2010 to 67.4% of the total in 2015. The percentage of college graduates in the 25+ population is, at 28.4%, almost at the statewide average of 28.6%. Thus the CNW (College % + Non-White % of the population, as I discussed previously, a good marker for likelihood to vote Democratic) of Dauphin County is 61.0, very similar to Lehigh County, a county which voted for Clinton, but with not quite a majority of the vote (49.97%).
Dauphin County also voted for Clinton, but she was again just shy of a majority of the vote, earning 64,706 votes (49.10%) compared to 60,683 votes (46.18%) for Trump, a slight rise in Republican support, again like Lehigh County. Turnout was a new high of 131,783 voters, although this represented a slightly lower (2.14%) fraction of the total turnout in the state compared with 2.15% in 2012, while total voter registration of 190,301 voters represented 2.18% of the statewide total, which was slightly lower than the number of registered voters in 2008 (192,724). Democratic registration, at 86,930 was up over 5,000 voters from 2012, slightly higher than the 2008 figure (86,853), while Republican registration increased by about 2,700 voters, to 76,863, higher than 2012, but lower than in 2008 (81,851) or 2004 (83,699).
The trend is clear in Dauphin County, despite the slight surge in turnout for Trump: The Democratic party has increased its voter registration numbers from 67,345 in 2004 to 86,930 in 2016 while the Republican registration numbers have declined by about 7,000 voters in the same time frame. The voting results reflect this change as well: Democratic vote totals were almost 10,000 votes higher in 2016 than in 2004, while Republican totals declined by about 4,000 votes in the same time frame. Coupled with an ever increasing CNW, the likelihood of a continued rise in support for Republican candidates in Dauphin County seems to be dependent on a change in the tone and practices of the Republican party, which the election of Donald Trump seems to have not only forestalled, but actually exacerbated.
In a trend very similar to other counties I have examined in these articles, the city of Harrisburg went heavily for Hillary Clinton (84.06%), while the rest of the county largely supported Trump, by wider margins directly proportional to the distance from the capital. Mifflin Township, for example, gave Trump 84.07% of its votes, exactly the opposite of Harrisburg. Harrisburg is over 75% Non-White, and has a CNW of 94.1, higher even than Philadelphia at 90.0! The blue dots in a red sea metaphor I have used before does not just apply to large cities like Nashville or Atlanta; Lancaster, Allentown, Reading, Harrisburg all display the same tendencies in their counties as the larger cities/counties do in their states.
Thus it is understandable to some degree to hear people say that “most of the country is red” if one looks at a map of the country broken down by the winner of a state or of a county. However, if one were to see a map that distributed population evenly, rather than a geographical map, the country would appear much more evenly divided, as it currently is in reality. A map of Pennsylvania is similarly distorted as the tiny little county of Philadelphia in the southeastern corner, with a paltry 0.3% of the land area represents one in eight people in the entire state and is overwhelmingly Democratic. A map that accurately reflects the relative importance of Philadelphia to the state at the population level would need to make Philadelphia 40 times larger than it is geographically.
Similarly, Harrisburg comprises 8.1 mi² of the 525mi² of land area in Dauphin County (1.5%) but the population of the capital is 18% of the entire county population. Harrisburg would need to be twelve times bigger on a map of the county to truly reflect its relative weight. Not to mention that it is the state capital, which means that it is significantly more important than it would be if it were merely the county seat.
Registration jumped in both parties in this fast-growing county, home of Penn State University. The Democrats increased their voter totals to 51,155, up 3,000 from 2012 and a new high, while Republicans also reached a new high, increasing their total to 47,653 voters from 44,883 in 2012. Overall, the long-term rise is sharper for the Democrats who have gained over 18,000 new registered voters since 2004, while the Republicans have increased their totals by about 9,000 voters.
Election results also favor the Democrats, who increased their vote total to 37,088 from 34,176 in 2012 and 30,733 in 2004. The Republicans increased their vote total from 2012 by a little over 1,000 votes, to 35,274. Both parties lost vote share to third party candidates: Clinton captured 47.97% of the vote, down from 49.09% in 2012, while Trump’s share of the vote, at 45.63%, was lower than Romney’s 48.83%. Overall, this was a county where Clinton improved on the margin of victory of Barack Obama in 2012.
The pattern of the main urban area breaking heavily for Clinton continued in Centre County, where State College Borough gave Clinton 65.83% of the vote, while Trump reached highs of more than 79% of the vote in Union Township. The CNW of Centre County in 2015 was 55.4, higher than the 50.7 average for Pennsylvania. The makeup of the number was slightly skewed by the fact that State College Borough is the home of Penn State University, and 68.8% of the residents of the borough possess a college degree, with the number for the county as a whole a respectable 41.4%, while the Non-White population was a relatively low 14.0% in 2015.
This county is the last of the counties with a CNW number higher than the statewide average of 50.7; whereas both Centre County and Monroe County both have a CNW of 55.4, Centre County had 41.4% college graduates while Monroe had only 23.0% college graduates and a Non-White population of 32.4%. Monroe County is an interesting County in that it is one of the many counties where Trump’s vote rose dramatically relative to that of previous Republicans; in this case, from 26,867 votes in 2012 to 33,386 votes in 2016, not enough to overcome Hillary Clinton’s 33,918 votes, which was down from 35,221 votes in 2012 and markedly down from 2008 when Obama received 39,453 votes. Interestingly, in 2004 Kerry earned only 27,967 votes to 27,971 votes for George Bush, so the county seems to have reverted to the tightly contested county of 2004.
Although Clinton was victorious in this county, as the margin was reduced dramatically, from an 8534 vote advantage in 2012 to a mere 532 vote advantage in 2016, this seems to be the place to begin an examination of the reasons the Democratic candidate managed to lose a state in which the traditional advantage in the Philadelphia area and Pittsburgh was insufficient to hold off the Republican surge in the rest of the state. We have already looked at other counties which Clinton won with a reduced majority: Lehigh County, where the margin fell from +11,389 for the Obama in 2012 to +7,634 for Clinton in 2016, Bucks County (+3,942 for Obama in 2012 and +2,699 for Clinton in 2016), Dauphin County (+7,515 for Obama in 2012, +4,023 for Clinton in 2016). Clinton’s margin was also 17,000 votes smaller in Philadelphia. Clinton won only one more county, Lackawanna County, which I will examine shortly. Here the margin was also much reduced from 2012, from a +26,753 vote margin for Obama, to a mere +3,599 vote margin for Clinton, a stunning 23,154 vote swing!
In total, Clinton won 11 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. In five of these counties (Allegheny, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester, and Centre) her margin of victory was greater than that of Barack Obama in 2012. In the other six Clinton’s margin was smaller than Obama’s in 2012. Is there a pattern of any sort that can be discerened? The answer is yes: in every county where the margin increased, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees in the 25+ population is higher than the statewide average of 28.6% (Allegheny-37.8%, Montgomery-46.9%, Delaware-36.0%, Chester-49.1%, Centre-41.4%). Conversely, in all of the remaining Clinton-supporting counties, bar one, the percentage of college graduates is lower than the statewide average (Lehigh-28.5%, Dauphin-28.4%, Philadelphia-25.4%, Monroe-23.0%, Lackawanna-25.9%). The exception to this rule? Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with a college graduation rate of 37.4%. It is interesting to note that in Lehigh, Dauphin, Monroe, and Philadelphia the overall margin of victory for Clinton in 2016 was higher than that of John Kerry in 2004 (and in some cases, such as Dauphin County, Kerry lost the county in question). The same is true of all five counties where Clinton’s margin increased over Obama’s 2012 margin. In fact, in four of those five counties, the margin of 2016 was a high for the past four elections.
Here then is the central question facing the Democratic party not just in Pennsylvania: It is clear that college educated voters are moving towards the Democratic party, while it is also clear that less well-educated voters are moving in the opposite direction. It is also true that the Democrats are performing well with Black, Hispanic, and other Non-White groups, while also losing support among White voters. Does the party need to make an appeal to win back the voters it seems to be losing, or should the party focus on consolidating the groups with which it has had success in recent elections?
I am not suggesting that the party say “fuck off” to White ‘working-class’ voters; far from it. I think the party should promote social policies that benefit all Americans, regardless of race or religion or education level. Unlike the Republicans, whose idea of ‘helping’ Americans consists entirely of pitting one group against another while handing out free money to the very people that need it the least with a misguided and frankly scandalous platform that promotes the notion that if rich people are happy they might sprinkle some money on the rest of us. However, the historical appeals to that very ‘working-class’ voter often have had a tinge of solidarity with the notion that Non-Whites somehow are not part of the ‘working class,’ or that ‘experts’ don’t have much common sense, and these kinds of appeals to racism or to anti-intellectualism, no matter how lightly, are sure to backfire in the long run with exactly the types of voter that are now, like it or not, the bedrock of the Democratic party. Michael Moore’s whining to the contrary, the corollary to ‘those jobs are gone and are not coming back’ in my mind is ‘those voters are gone and they are not coming back’!
Before I move on, I want to come back to Bucks County to ask the question: what the hell is going on there? It is the only county won by Hillary Clinton with a population more highly educated than the average county to have not only moved away from Clinton in 2016, but to have given Clinton a smaller margin of victory than John Kerry in 2004. The first thing to note is that Clinton’s vote total of 167,060 votes was higher than Kerry’s 163,438 votes and 7,000 more than Obama received in 2012, but nowhere near as high as the record 179,031 votes Obama earned in 2008. Trump’s total, at 164,361 votes, was a high for Republicans in the past four elections. Overall, Republican voter registration was up 10,000 voters from 2012, but at 188,625 voters, is still down 20,000 voters from 2004 totals. On the other hand, Democratic registration was up 9,000 voters to 198,007 from 189,111 in 2012. Registration numbers in 2016 were also higher than in 2008 (195,821) and the figure for the most recent election was higher by 25,000 voters than the 173,803 registered Democrats in 2004. Thus, voter registration numbers paint a different picture from the one I painted above: Democrats seem to be improving their overall position in the county while Republicans seem to be losing ground in the long run.
The demographic data suggests that the long term prognosis for the Democratic party in Bucks County is rosier than the election results of 2016 indicate. The White (Not Hispanic) population of Bucks County declined from 87.0% in 2010 to 84.8% in 2015. The percentage of Whites in Bucks County in 2015 (84.8%) is the highest of any of the counties won by Clinton in 2016, with the exception of Centre County which, as I discussed above, has a very high (41.4%) percentage of college graduates, and Lackawanna County which I will discuss below. It seems obvious that, as the demographics of Bucks County evolve, the County will slowly become more like other counties surrounding Philadelphia. I would argue that in this election, the Bucks County result reflects the surge of support for Trump among the White population in Pennsylvania and that the long term change in the population of Bucks County will change the dynamic in future. If, as I predict, demographic breakdowns are useful indicators of potential trends in voting patterns, Bucks County actually is a useful bellwether county.
So too is Lackawanna County a bellwether county. Only in this case, the county in which Scranton is located is more of a marker of where the Democratic party is losing support. As I have stated previously, Lackawanna County was the only county in which Clinton was victorious that had a CNW (% College degree + % non-white) number that was below 50; in fact it was below 40, at 38.9. How then, did Clinton win? Scranton is the birthplace of Joe Biden, who campaigned strongly there and was also the home of Hillary Clinton’s grandfather. It was abundantly clear during the election campaign that places like Scranton were the battlegrounds in the state, and Clinton spent a lot of time and money in the area trying to shore up her support. She won, but by a massively diminished margin. Her total of 51,983 votes was the lowest of any of the last four Democratic totals by a long margin (Kerry 2004- 59,573; Obama 2008-67,520; Obama 2012-61,838). On the other hand Trump dramatically improved on previous Republican numbers, with 48,384 votes the highest in the last four elections (Bush 2004-44,766; McCain 2008-39,488; Romney 2012-35,085).
The overall voter turnout was higher than in 2012 (104,404 to 98,015) but was lower than in 2008 (107,876) and 2004 (105,819). This is a reflection of the slow population decline in the county, which is also reflected in the voter registration numbers; at 148,104 registered voters, the number was the lowest total of the last four elections, a marked difference from almost all of the growing counties we have examined thus far. Both Republican and Democratic numbers were down substantially from 2004 levels, an indication that, although the Democratic party is struggling here, the Republican gains will be modest at best and are more likely to result from grabbing a bigger slice of a shrinking pie. This is a strategy that worked in 2016 for Trump and the Republicans, but it seems to be a mathematically difficult challenge to pull off in the future, for the obvious reason that the growing counties generally are trending towards the Democratic party and thus any loss in votes here in Lackawanna will likely be offset by gains in places like Montgomery County. In 2016, for example, although the margin in Lackawanna County shifted dramatically (23,154 votes in favor of Trump as I mentioned earlier), the margin in Montgomery County moved in favor of the Democrats by 34,376 votes! Montgomery County’s population increased by almost 20,000 people in the five years that Lackawanna’s population declined by 2,500 people. The total number of registered voters in Montgomery increased by 10,000 while declining by 1,200 in Lackawanna, and the number of registered Democrats in Montgomery has increased by 50,000 since 2004, while the number of registered Republicans in Montgomery has declined by 58,000, a net increase of 108,000 voters!
It is clear that a surge of support for Trump in places like Lackawanna County was a major factor in his victory. To take the results of 2016 as a sign that the current version of the Republican party is going to continue to improve their performance in Pennsylvania in the future is not supported by the evidence. As I have already demonstrated, places where the population is growing are trending towards the Democratic party and places where the Republican party is trending are in places where the population is declining. Trump’s success was a result of an exceptionally high turnout for the Republican party that in my opinion, is unlikely to occur again. As I have suggested previously, the surge of interest in Trump resembles the surge of support for Ross Perot in 1992, which had dropped off substantially by 1996 and had disappeared by 2000. George Bush managed to pull some voters back in 2004 but Kerry increased his margins over Gore by much more and the high voter numbers for the Democratic party in Pennsylvania have not slackened substantially. It is true that Clinton, a frankly mediocre Democratic nominee, received slightly fewer votes than John Kerry did in 2004, but in every place where there is substantial growth in Pennsylvania, Clinton did far better than Kerry did in 2004. The main difference is that Kerry was successful in places like Lackawanna County and, as we shall see, other counties such as Luzerne County and places like Washington County in western Pennsylvania that are increasingly trending Republican in their voting patterns, are very White, have lower than average education levels and, most importantly, are not growing in population!
We have now finished examining the counties where Hillary Clinton was victorious in 2012 as well as one or two large counties where she lost the vote. Where did she stand then, at this point in our examination of the results, compared to Barack Obama in 2012? After examining nine of the ten largest counties in Pennsylvania, Clinton had a margin of 714,391 votes compared to Obama’s margin of 673,824 votes. Adding in the four counties above in which both candidates were victorious, Clinton’s vote total reaches 2,132,417 which is actually still higher than Obama’s total of 2,077,428 votes. Trumps’ total, at 1,408,238 votes is also higher than Romney’s total of 1,360,807 votes. Amazingly, Clinton maintains a lead in her margin over Trump of +724,179 votes, 7,558 votes more than Obama’s lead of 716,621 votes over Mitt Romney. At this point, with 13 counties counted representing exactly 60% of the votes cast in Pennsylvania, Clinton had performed as one might have expected for a Democratic candidate, succeeding in running up the totals in Democratic friendly large urban counties. However, the decrease in the margin of victory in certain counties like Lehigh, Dauphin, and most especially Lackawanna County, show the path that ultimately resulted in Clinton’s defeat in Pennsylvania.
In the remaining 54 counties Obama received 912,846 votes to Romney’s 1,319,627 votes. Clinton managed to garner only 794,024 votes while Trump earned a total of 1,562,495 votes. The 768,471 vote margin for Trump in the remaining 40% of the vote cast in Pennsylvania was sufficient to give him a 44,292 vote victory over Clinton. Romney’s margin in these same counties was 406,781 votes and thus Obama was able to win comfortably by 309,840 votes. The result was not merely the loss of Obama voters to Trump, although Clinton did receive 118,822 votes fewer than Obama; this switch alone would have accounted for only 237,644 votes, not enough to overcome the 309,840 vote margin of 2012. What propelled Trump to victory in these counties by such a large margin was an 8.26% increase in voter turnout in these 54 counties over 2012. In the thirteen counties examined thus far, voter turnout was up 6.41 %. Overall 411, 078 more voters voted in 2016 compared to 2012; Clinton’s numbers were down by 63,833 votes compared to Obama’s , but third party votes were up by 184,612 votes, and Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s total by 290,299 votes. Thus, it is clear that if Clinton had managed to hang on to about 25,000 votes, just a small fraction of the votes she lost from Obama in 2012, she would have been victorious. In other words, had she merely won in one or two counties like Lackawanna County by the exact same margin Obama won the county in 2012 (26,753 votes versus 3,599 votes, a difference of 23,154 votes) Clinton would have defeated Trump in Pennsylvania, regardless of the massive surge in voter turnout for Trump.
Anyone reading through all these entries deserves an award for patience. The question might be raised, why do I bother doing this exercise and why is it so detailed? My answer is twofold: first of all, I regret not investigating more closely the 54 counties remaining that I have left un-examined for the moment. My sense before the election was that the numbers were not there and no matter how many votes Clinton lost relative to Obama, the margin she built up in counties favorable to the Democrats would and could not be overcome by the relatively smaller voter pool that remained. Obviously this was not accurate and I need to try to understand how I could have underestimated the surge in turnout.
A second reason for doing this in such boring detail is that I am extremely irritated at those, on both the left and the right, who now blithely assume that facts don’t matter. Fuck You! They do matter: it is one thing to predict something and be wrong, it is quite another thing to make shit up, which is frankly what many people are doing now. The election is being portrayed as a mandate for a rapid rollback of the accomplishments of Obama, and frankly the progress of the last eighty years. The facts speak to something different: turnout in Philadelphia did not match the relative share of either registered voters or of the population of the city as a whole. Had it done so in Philadelphia, or Miami, or Cleveland and Cincinnati, or Milwaukee, or Detroit, or Atlanta, or any number of other big cities in America, there is absolutely no way Trump would have been elected. The facts are available, they are indisputable, regardless of how loudly Trump might rant about voter fraud (Trump is a Fucking Liar!).
There is no mandate for Trump; he and the Republicans have succeeded in pulling off a ‘slow-moving coup’ as Bill Maher puts it, with a combination of relentless assaults on the integrity and value of government led by Fox News, thinly-veiled racist and bigoted attacks on anybody perceived as ‘different’, a constantly vigilant effort to suppress votes in areas unfavorable to their views, to gerrymander districts to create maximum Republican success, and frankly outrageous behavior towards President Obama, best exemplified by the refusal of the Senate to even consider the nomination of Obama’s selection to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.
The only way this can succeed in the future is for those in opposition to lose interest in the facts. Saying the opposite of Trump and his minions is no solution: if he says Black and you say White and the answer is Grey, nobody is served well. Protesting everything also serves no purpose: all that will happen is that everyone will be exhausted in six months and in two years time the Republicans will steamroll the Democrats in the mid-terms and increase their already formidable power. What needs to happen is that places like Philadelphia need to get more voters out to the polls, particularly in off-year elections. One example from the 2016 election in Pennsylvania is illustrative: Pat Toomey was re-elected to the US Senate with 2,951,702 votes, defeating Katie McGinty by 86,690 votes. Had McGinty been victorious, the Republicans would have a slender 51-49 advantage in the Senate, putting a great deal of pressure on Republican senators from Democratic-leaning states to moderate their tone; instead, every Cabinet nominee and all new bills are being pushed through the Senate with only token, symbolic opposition. Similar stories can be told in other states like Wisconsin.
I have stated before that the major success of the Republican party is that their voters show up in off-year elections. There is absolutely no chance that Massachusetts would have a Republican governor if turnout in the gubernatorial elections was anywhere near the turnout levels of presidential elections. If a liberal state like Massachusetts fails to elect candidates that represent the majority of the state, what chance do the voters in places like North Carolina or, in the case under review, Pennsylvania?
In the next and (hopefully) final installment of this series of articles parsing the results of the 2016 presidential election in Pennsylvania (and, by extension, analyzing general trends in electoral politics nationally), I finally peel back the cover and examine the counties that supported Trump in 2016 in Pennsylvania, in a posthumous effort to sort out how it is that a state that should have supported Hillary Clinton ended up costing her the election and plunged the country into the greatest crisis since the Civil War.