Pennsylvania’s Changing Political Face

Trump at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on the eve of the election

In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 percent and followed it up with a 5 percent win in 2012. But, Donald Trump broke the Democratic streak of carrying the state since 1992, by a narrow 45,000 vote margin (less than one percent). More importantly, how Trump did it represents how Pennsylvania is changing politically.

I have already written how Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won the state via different electoral groups. Toomey’s win can be credited to his strength in the suburbs. Trump outran his shoddy performance in the suburbs by running up massive, massive margins in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Daily Kos we now can see how Pennsylvania’s voted shifted from 12–16 by region and Congressional District.

Let’s start by region. Regionally, Central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania turned bright red. For example, traditional Democratic counties like Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Luzerne in North-Central Pennsylvania both voted for Trump. The only bright spot for Democrats in either region was blue Pittsburgh (Allegeny County), Penn State (Centre County) and Harrisburg (Dauphin County).

In the suburbs, the former strength of the GOP in the state, Trump finished 50,000 votes behind Romney. Combined with Philly Trump actually had to make up a gap of 67,000 additional votes compared to Romney How Trump did this can be seen at the Congressional District level.

Four years ago, Romney won 12 of the state’s 18 districts while Trump won 11 districts. He traded two Romney districts for one Obama district. Trump won the 17th CD by 10 percent while Obama took the Scranton based district by 12 percent for a massive, 22 percent swing from 12–16. If not for the fact the Democratic Congressman, Matt Cartwright, faced weak GOP competition in the 17th, he might have lost this ancestrally blue district.

To the South, due to Trump’s weakness in the suburbs, Clinton managed to win squeakers in the 6th and 7th districts by two percent each. However, due to the fact Clinton only garnered 11, 000 votes from the districts while Trump won 31,000 additional votes from the 17th he got the better of the deal.

Combine this with Trump’s significantly bigger margins in GOP districts in the North and West and Trump’s path to victory, narrow as it was, gets clearer. The only district beyond Philly that did not swing widely was the Pittsburgh based 14th, which went 67–31 for Clinton compared to 68–31 for Obama four years ago.

Case in point. Erie County. Obama won the county with 57 percent in 2012. Trump took the county with 48 percent. Unlike other counties that swung to the Donald, turnout actually increased by 6,000 votes in the county. Further, while Obama lost every other western border county he garnered 40 percent or more in five of the six. Clinton did not top 40 percent in a single one. Combined with Erie she did not win a single western border county.

Whether Trump’s win is unique or not remains to be seen. But, Toomey’s victory also proved the party has multiple and evolving paths to victory in this state. Something nobody would have said until November of last year.

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