In the previous article I began a reassessment of the results of the 2016 Presidential Election in Pennsylvania, about which I have written a few articles already, as it was regarded before the election as a critical state in the election and, in fact, proved to be exactly that. I had examined the evidence and suggested that the demographic data and the voter registration data showed a likely Clinton victory, although I wrote of my fear of some type of irrational voter surge which, in my opinion, is exactly what ended up happening. In the article just published I started by looking at Philadelphia and the counties surrounding Philadelphia, which traditionally provide a massive margin which is insurmountable regardless of the result in the remaining 62 counties in Pennsylvania.
However, the 663,630 vote margin racked up by Hillary Clinton in the demographically dynamic Philadelphia area, although impressive, was in the end bested by about 44,000 votes in the remaining counties, thought to be declining in population and to be increasingly less influential in general elections. So what happened? As I wrote in the previous entry, turnout in these 62 counties reached a record 4,101,052 votes cast, higher than the previous high of 3,986,489 in Barack Obama’s victorious 2008 campaign. In other words, people who in a normal election cycle have not voted in recent years, came to the polls in numbers sufficient to overcome the margin of Philadelphia.
In this article I want to continue to examine the results in more detail. First of all, it seems logical to examine Clinton’s remaining pockets of strength in the state to see how she fared in places in which she was expected to do well. The obvious first place to explore is Allegheny, the county in which Pittsburgh is located.
Pittsburgh added to Clinton’s large margin in the Philadelphia area. Overall voter registration in Allegheny County was 924,631 a number almost identical to the 924,351 registered voters in 2012, although the population of the county increased by 7,000 residents overall in the period from 2010 to 2015, a period when most every county in Pennsylvania save the ones already discussed lost population. Overall, the percent of registered voters from Allegheny County dropped from 10.86% to 10.59% of the total as voter registration totals were up in many counties despite their population loss. Turnout in Allegheny County was very high, with 657,189 voters showing up on election day, an increase of 35,000 from 2012 and even higher than the 651,436 voters in 2008. The vote for Clinton was favorable as well; she received 367,617 votes, more than Obama’s 352,687 in 2012 but fewer than Obama’s 2008 total of 373,153 and even fewer than the 368,912 votes Kerry earned in 2004. Additionally, Trump received the fewest votes by a Republican in the last four elections with 259,480 votes (Romney 262,039; McCain 272,347; Bush 271,925 in 2004). Clinton’s margin of victory was a healthy 108,137 votes, even better than the 60-95,000 vote margin range I had predicted prior to the election.
Thus the major urban center in western Pennsylvania was the sole bright blue spot in what has increasingly become difficult territory for Democrats. After tallying up the 6 counties already discussed, Clinton had stretched the margin over Trump to 771,767 votes. The six counties are 6 of the 7 largest in the state (I will get to Lancaster County, #6 shortly), and made up 41.59% of the population of Pennsylvania as of mid-2015 (US Census date: 5,324,365 of 12,802,503 residents). Registered voters in these six counties made up 43.94% of the total, and actual voters comprised 44.19% of the total. Thus it is apparent that even with the surge of voters in the remaining 61 counties, the overall participation rate of the remaining counties is still slightly below average, as they represented 58.41% of the population but only 56.06% of registered voters and 55.81% of actual voters in the most recent election.
The remaining counties in Pennsylvania cast 3,441,863 votes and 2,048,632 (59.52%) went to Trump while Clinton received only 1,232,573 votes (35.80%), with the remaining 4.68% distributed among the remaining candidates (including write-in candidates). The 816,059 vote margin racked up by Trump in the remaining 61 counties of Pennsylvania was enough to overcome the seemingly insurmountable 771,497 vote margin Clinton achieved in the aforementioned large metropolitan counties of Pennsylvania. Comparing this to the 2012 result is informative. In that election Barack Obama earned 1,631,473 votes, while Romney earned 925,159 votes in the six metropolitan counties. This resulted in a margin of 706,314 votes for Obama, 65,000 votes less than Clinton’s margin! Obama still won the state by over 300,000 votes by holding down the margin in the remaining counties, something in which Clinton was clearly unsuccessful in 2016.
Obama received 1,358,801 votes in the rest of the state, 126,228 votes more than Clinton earned. This alone would not have been enough to tilt the election away from the Democratic party. Instead the major difference is Trump earned 2,048,632 votes to Romney’s 1,755,275 votes, an increase of 293,357 votes. This represents a swing from a 396,474 vote deficit for Obama to an 816,059 vote deficit for Clinton. It is in these counties that we need to focus our attention in order to sort out who the voters that arrived were, how the voter data compares to demographic data, and to try and assess the likelihood of this pattern repeating itself, particularly in view of the unfavorable demographic profile of many of the counties we will now examine.
The Outer Philadelphia Counties (Lancaster, Berks, York, and Lehigh County)
Bucks County is often cited as a bellwether county in Pennsylvania, and this is generally an accurate assessment of the situation. It is usually a tightly-contested county, but in recent elections the county seems to always fall slightly into the Democratic camp. This election was no different, although Clinton’s vote total of 167,060 votes represented only 48.42% of the votes cast, while Trump received 47.64% with 164,361 votes the highest Republican total in the last four elections. it is, however, the slowest-growing of the ten largest counties in Pennsylvania and the tightness of it’s elections do not necessarily reflect the overall results of the state. John Kerry’s margin of victory was 9,000 votes in 2004, while Barack Obama won the county by only 4,000 votes eight years later, even though his overall margin was substantially bigger than Kerry’s in Pennsylvania, to cite one example.
As the sprawl of Philadelphia edges ever outward, it seems that the counties beyond the core five counties discussed will prove of increasing importance and that the balance of future elections will be held by fast-growing counties like Lancaster, Berks, York, and Lehigh Counties. These four counties are the 6th, 8th, 9th, and 10th largest counties in the state, with a combined population of 1,755,447 inhabitants (2015 US Census data), a number larger than the population of Philadelphia. The population of these counties increased between 2010 and 2015 by 40,091 residents. Coupled with the increases in the six counties already discussed, the total increase in the population of the 10 largest counties in Pennsylvania between 2010 and 2015 alone was 132,114 inhabitants. The total increase in the population of Pennsylvania in that same period was 100,124 which means that the 57 remaining counties in Pennsylvania saw a 31,990 person population decline in the same period. The ten largest counties in the state made up 7,079,812 (55.3%) of the 12,802,503 residents of Pennsylvania in 2015, and it is clear that these are the counties that are likely to grow while, with three or four exceptions, the remaining counties continue to decline.
Thus it is clear that the voter turnout and the share of the total vote in the 2016 election of the 57 smaller counties is likely at a high water mark (there are a few other counties among these that are growing; however these counties, including Dauphin County where the capital Harrisburg is located, too are increasingly Democratic leaning in their demographic projections). Most of the counties have aging populations, a smaller and smaller share of the population under the age of 18, and not a few residents who either die or move to Florida or other states. The future of Pennsylvania politics lies in the ten largest counties, and the four listed here are quite interesting in what they illustrate about the most recent election as well as future elections. I will look at these four counties first, then focus on the remaining counties that are friendly to Democrats, before finishing with the counties which are moving away from the Democratic party, as well as counties that have long been unfriendly to the Democratic ticket.
Lehigh County’s voting reflects a pattern similar to that of the inner ring of counties surrounding Philadelphia; in fact, it seems to be a bit of hybrid between neighboring Bucks County and Montgomery County. On the one hand it is growing rapidly like Montgomery County; on the other hand, although Democratic registration is increasing, Republican registration is increasing as well. Like Montgomery County, the number of non-White residents is increasing rapidly as the Hispanic population surges. In fact, Lehigh, at 66.9% White (Not Hispanic), has the lowest percentage of Whites of the three counties (Bucks-84.8%, Montgomery 76.9%. However, unlike the two above counties The percentage of 25+year old residents with a college degree in Lehigh Couny, at 28.5%, is lower than the state average of 28.6%. As I discussed in a previous entry, the combination of the percentage of residents with a Bachelor’s Degree combined with the percentage of Non-White residents of a county (CNW for short) is a pretty reliable indicator of the likelihood that a particular county will vote for the Republican or the Democratic candidate in a given election. Any county that had a CNW above the state average of 50.7 voted for Clinton in the recent election; only one county with a CNW below 50 voted for Clinton.
The long term trend in Lehigh (CNW=61.6) is Democratic, with voter registration increasing from 88,149 registered Democrats in 2004 to 115,733 in 2016, while the Republican registration numbers have increased only very slowly from 79,364 registered Republicans in 2004 to 80,618 in this election. However, the Democratic margin of victory in 2016 was much smaller than the margin in 2012: Clinton winning by 81,324 votes to 73,690 (+7,634 votes) in 2016, while Obama won by a more comfortable 78,263 to 66,874 votes (+11,389). Trump’s numbers were up substantially (+6,816 votes) while the Clinton numbers were up but represented a smaller increase than Trump’s improvement (+3,061 votes). Interestingly, third party votes were up substantially from 1,845 votes in 2012 to 7,719 votes in 2016, and overall Lehigh County turnout was up from 146,982 to 162,733 voters.
Voter turnout in Lehigh County in 2016, at 68.93%, was slightly under the the statewide average of 70.69% and yet the actual number of votes cast, as well as total voter registration, at 236,081, were both records, an indication of the growth in population. In 2004 the vote total in Lehigh County represented 2.51% of the total state turnout but this figure increased steadily through to 2016, when the Lehigh County vote total represented 2.64% of the total vote in a year with a record high turnout. However, the population represents 2.82% of the statewide population, so there seems to be room for increased voter registration and turnout. Lehigh County, whose county seat is Allentown, seems to be a good county to watch in future elections, as it is poised between an increasingly non-White population, which tends to favor the Democrats, but also a slightly lower than average percentage of college graduates, a statistic that generally favors Republicans. The balance between the two numbers likely accounts for the seeming split personality of the electorate, where both parties seem to be improving their registration and turnout numbers.
Incidentally, looking down the ticket, Katie McGinty, the Democratic candidate for Senate, narrowly defeated the incumbent, Republican Pat Toomey in Lehigh County. Toomey, like Trump, was successful at the state level, and also in neighboring Bucks County where, although Clinton won the vote over Trump by 3,000 votes, McGinty went down to T0omey by 18,000 votes. Toomey was also victorious in Chester County, another Clinton county, which indicates that Chester and Bucks Counties continue to be bellwether counties as well. As I will discuss shortly, many of the smaller counties voted overwhelmingly Republican in both races. Thus any close election will not be decided by the smaller counties, as it is difficult to envision an increase in turnout much higher than in 2016 nor will it be easy to increase the margin of victory by much more in the smaller counties. Instead the growing counties outside of Philadelphia hold the key to future elections.
Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties, as well as Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, will continue to be centers of strength for the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania. Together they represent almost 33% of the population. Bucks, Chester, Lehigh, Lancaster, Berks, York, and Dauphin (location of the capital Harrisburg and also a growing county) represent about 25% of the population and comprise most of the remaining counties that are growing in Pennsylvania). Two or three other counties are becoming increasingly favorable to the Democrats, but the bulk of the remaining counties in the state are slowly becoming more Republican. As they are also slowly declining overall in population, the absolute number of Republican voters may not rise much however, and the loss of Democratic voters in these counties is likely to continue to be offset by the increasing number of Democratic voters in the Philadelphia area.
Reading, the county seat of Berks County Pennsylvania, is becoming an increasingly non-White city. As of 2010, the last year for which the US Census provides data, Reading had a White (Not Hispanic) population of only 28.7%, while the county as a whole was 76.9% White. In the five years to 2015, the Census estimates that the White (Not Hispanic) population declined in the county from 76.9% to 73.4% of the population, an absolute decline of almost 12,ooo residents. Concurrently the Non-White population increased by over 15,000 residents. Voter registration and election results in 2016 do not seem to reflect the changing population: Republican registration rose by over 7,000 people (93,598 to 100,782), while Democratic registration stayed virtually the same as in 2012 (120,217 to 120,547). Clinton’s vote total was down by 5,000 votes from Obama’s numbers in 2012 and Trump’s numbers were up from Romney’s by almost 12,000 votes, a massive surge and one of the clearest indicators of the direction of voter preference in White, non-college educated voters. Outside of Reading, which Clinton won handily (19188 to 4,606 votes) Trump won the vote of Berks County by 92,020 votes to 59,249 votes. The population outside Reading is about 90% White. Outside Reading (which has an appallingly low 9.3% of the population with a college degree) the rest of Berks county has a rate of only 27.0% people with a bachelor’s degree, lower than the state average).
Again then, we have the dynamic of an increasingly non-White population combined with a low percentage of Whites with college degrees. Looking at the county from a slightly longer perspective, it is worth noting that the number of registered Democrats is up from 103,541 in 2004 to 120,217 in 2016, while the number of Republicans is up only from 98,170 in 2004 to 100,782 in 2016. Also, George Bush won Berks County with a higher percentage (52.97%) of the vote than Trump’s tally (52.49%). There is a very fluid situation in Berks County, which makes it an important county to watch in future elections, like Lehigh, Bucks, and Chester Counties.
Berks County has a CNW =49.8, slightly below the state average. It is clear that this ratio will surpass 50% very shortly. Whether the new residents vote or not seems to be the main factor in future elections. Certainly the turnout in the most recent election does not bode well: although the population of Reading is over 20% of the county total, the votes cast in the city in 2016 represented less than 15% of the total votes cast in the county. Part of this can be explained by the fact that 18% of the population is foreign born and many are likely not citizens and hence not able to vote. Despite what Donald Trump says about illegal voting, here is yet more evidence that, if anything, voter turnout in the city is almost always much lower than that of the surrounding county, and thus, it is statistically almost impossible that illegal voting on any kind of scale could be influencing the results in favor of the Democratic Party. If anything, it is the other way around. Donald Trump is a fucking liar!
One noticeable pattern is that each of the counties discussed thus far follows a similar pattern: the major town or city in the county votes heavily in favor of the Democratic candidate while the smaller surrounding townships increasingly vote more Republican the greater the distance away from the city. For instance, in Lehigh County, Allentown voted for Clinton by 27,782 (69.47%) to 11,014 votes for Trump (27.54%), while towns at the other end of the county like Washington Township gave Trump more than two-thirds of the vote. Similarly, in Berks County, Reading gave Clinton 78.11% of the vote to 18.75% for Trump, but Bethel Township at the far corner of the county gave Trump 80.90% of the vote. Even in Allegheny County, a big county for Clinton, she received 74.82% of the vote in Pittsburgh, but lost outlying townships by two to one margins.
Similarly, Clinton won the city of Lancaster handsomely, with 73.81% of the vote, but was heavily defeated by Trump in the rest of the county, especially the counties furthest from the city, where Trump routinely received at least 70% of the vote. Is there a link? Of course, there is! The CNW of all these cities, Allentown (72.3), Reading (80.3), Pittsburgh (73.5) and Lancaster City (80.3) are much higher than the state average of 50.7. In a previous article I pointed out that all ten counties in Pennsylvania with a CNW>50 voted for Clinton while only one county with a CNW under 40 voted for Clinton. The same is true of the cities within counties: where the CNW>50, the likelihood of a Clinton victory is very high, while the opposite is true for Trump, who thrives when the White (not Hispanic) population is high and especially if the level of education is low.
Examining Lancaster County as a whole, a pattern similar to some of the counties we have looked at emerges: Democratic voter registration is increasing in the long run while Republican registration surged in this election but overall has declined from the levels of 2004. And while it is true that Trump won the county by a large 56.33% to 37.21% margin, Clinton’s vote total relative to Kerry in 2004 has increased by 17,000 while the Republican total has declined from 145,591 in 2004 to 137,914 votes today, about 7,000 votes. Third party votes, interestingly, are way up from previous elections: 15,825 votes compared to 3,286 votes in 2012 and only 1,359 votes in 2004. Where these votes go in future elections will crystallize the direction of the voting patterns here, but it is fair to say that Lancaster remains a Republican stronghold for the foreseeable future, although it is a place that the margin is likely to slowly narrow, as the county grows and becomes more diverse. In 2010 the CNW was 40.2, but by 2015 it had increased to 42.6, a 6% increase in only 5 years. At the current pace, Lancaster would have a CNW of 50+by the 2024 election, at which point the county would likely become competitive for the Democratic party. Considering that Lancaster County is currently the 6th largest county by population in Pennsylvania and is rapidly growing, this seems to be a bad sign for Republicans.
As we have just seen through our examination of 9 of the 10 largest counties in Pennsylvania, four are already strongly Democratic, three more have trended Democratic in recent elections but are still closely contested, one county (Berks) has a CNW of 49.8 and seems to be Republican at the moment but trending Democratic, while Lancaster is Republican but also seems to slowly be moving in the direction of the Democratic Party. These nine counties make up almost 52% of the population. If all become Democratic, there is little prospect of Republican success in the long term in Pennsylvania given the current growth patterns and demographic developments.
I will discuss York County in a future article where I look at the remaining counties in Pennsylvania. York represents one of the few bright spots for Republicans, a fast-growing county that seems to be remaining strongly Republican. Therefore this and the two or three smaller nearby counties that are similar need to be looked at in more detail.
To me the demographic dynamic in Pennsylvania resembles that of New Jersey twenty years ago: at that time New Jersey was a state that was fought over as it straddled a demographic divide that made it competitive. Subsequently the state became increasingly diverse and the results in recent presidential elections leave little doubt that, if Republicans continue down the dangerous path they are currently following, they will lose an entire generation of young people who will be alienated by their blatant antipathy to diversity and intellectual development. States like California, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland are at the forefront of economic growth in this country, particularly as these states tend not to depend on the extraction industry for much of their success. I understand that we need energy to run things and that we need food to run ourselves and that many states have economies that are heavily dependent on farming and extraction, but as California, which has a vast agricultural sector, shows, economic dynamism that results from an educated and diverse population comprised of the best talent available from around the planet is the true engine of growth now and in the future.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have seen large declines in their populations and in their relative importance in the decades since World War II which corresponded to the decline of manufacturing (which, by the way, was greatly accelerated under Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, and NOT under Obama– #Trump is a fucking liar). However, as is obvious to anyone who has looked at America in the past decade or two, cities are back and have become the principal engines of growth in the country. The same is true of both Philadelphia and of Pittsburgh, which have seen population increases in recent years after decades of decline. Now it is the smaller counties in Pennsylvania that are in decline. Can they revive? Not with a lot of old white people hostile to change and to anybody who does not look like them. Old people do not reproduce, they die. Where are the young people today? In Philadelphia only 12.1% of the population is over 65, while in Pittsburgh the number is 13.8%. In Westmoreland County, a heavily Trump-voting county near Pittsburgh, the number was 18.9% in 2010 but was 21.2% by 2015. I am not opposed to people over the age of 65, I am just explaining that dynamic growth is unlikely if the population is getting old, declining, and does not seem to be increasing its diversity or its level of educational attainment. Despite what Trump (who is a fucking liar) might have told you, the jobs are not returning to Westmoreland County or any other similar place in the country. You have been conned.
What are the voters in the vast hinterlands in Pennsylvania and other states thinking when they reject the Democratic party and choose a likely dictator as president, one who is clearly a snake-oil salesman to anybody who is paying attention? I am having trouble with this question as are many people who are told we are insensitive to the plight of the white American worker, especially men. Damn it! I am a white American man and I even know people who voted for Trump and yet I still don’t understand how they can be so gullible. My goal in this series of articles has been to try to figure out where these voters come from, how likely they are to remain loyal to the Republicans, how likely they are to be around in future elections, and whether there is a road the Democrats can take that might lead them out of the wilderness.
Thus far, it is clear that, at least in Pennsylvania, the places that Clinton might have expected to perform well indeed were fruitful from a voter turnout and voter preference point of view. We have now looked at a few counties where Clinton was less successful and see a couple of patterns emerging as I have just discussed. These trends accelerate as the counties become smaller and more distant from Philadelphia or from Pittsburgh.
After examining nine of the ten largest counties in Pennsylvania, which account for 51.8% of the population, Clinton won seven of the nine and maintained a lead of 714,391 votes with a total of 1,944,722 votes (58.64%) to Trump’s 1,230,331 votes (37.10%) and 141,452 third party and other votes (4.26%). The total vote tally of 3,316,505 votes represents 53.78% of the votes cast. Thus the remaining 46.22% of the vote was cast by the remaining 48.2% of the population of Pennsylvania. These counties managed to give Trump a 758,683 vote margin, enough to win the state despite the massive lead Clinton established in the largest counties. Barack Obama garnered a total of 1,881,228 votes in these nine counties in 2012, 63,494 fewer than Hillary Clinton. Romney received 1,207,404 votes in these same nine counties; thus the margin of Barack Obama was 673,824 votes 40,567 fewer than Clinton’s margin. Yet Obama won, as I have stated previously, by over 300,000 votes whereas Clinton lost by 44,292 votes. Something very odd indeed happened in the remaining 58 counties of Pennsylvania.