What a difference two months can make, huh?
My last voter registration update was posted just hours before Tom Hanks and Rudy Goebert shook Americans out of their complacency towards COVID-19. Since then, Pennsylvania’s primary was pushed back from April 26th to June 2nd. As a result, the voter registration deadline moved to May 18th.
The past five weeks saw the culmination of some significant shifts in the Keystone State. For instance, earlier this month Democrats became the plurality party in Chester County while the GOP flipped Lawrence County.
This premiere example of the Acela/Appalachia divide happened to coincide with my fifth anniversary of tracking changes in voter registration. The statewide shifts from May 2015 to May 2020 are portrayed in another map, included later in this piece.
Overall, there are at this moment 4,088,486 registered Democrats and 3,285,059 registered Republicans among the total 8,589,695 registered voters in the commonwealth. The margin is D+803,427, up from D+802,714 in March.
A quick note: I explore our changing voter trends by tracking the gains one party accumulated in registrations over the other party. For example, R+500 means that the Republican Party gained a net 500 more registered voters in that county than the Democratic Party did over this time period while D+500 indicates the opposite.
These are disappointing numbers for Central Pennsylvania Dems. First of all, the growth in Centre County is weak and that trend may well continue if Penn State can’t host students this fall. Additionally, Dems suffered a setback in Union County after recently posting gains.
This giant swath of the state remains deep red. Believe it or not, both Clinton and Elk counties had more registered Dems as recently as five years ago (see map below).
Luzerne County continues to be a worrisome spot for Democrats. Republicans are gaining on them at a pace not seen anywhere else outside the Southwest. The GOP is also happy to see those Lackawanna numbers, while Pike County took a turn towards the Dems. One under-the-radar movement I’ve been watching is in Schuylkill County. Five years ago the GOP advantage was about 4,500, today it’s more than 15,000.
In this region, the smallest net change is the biggest deal. After five years of Republicans making consistent improvements in Erie County, the Democrats recorded their first net gain in this time period. It’s unclear whether this is an outlier or if the tide may be beginning to turn in this critical Obama-Trump county.
When you’ve done this for a while, you begin to believe that you can roughly predict every result. That’s why I found the York numbers so shocking. Despite being in a region where Democrats are making gains, York’s trend has been one of the best for the GOP in Pennsylvania …until now. My guess is that an update of the voter rolls is responsible and that the red wave there will soon resume. Although I’ll be sure to keep an eye out next time.
President Donald Trump ventured to Allentown this month and the above stats show why, as Lehigh continues to move left. Meanwhile, the Democrats are gathering serious strength in their base of Philadelphia and its collar counties. Former Veep Joe Biden is on pace to post an impressive margin out of SEPA.
Check out the 2015 to 2020 map above and compare it to the numbers here. That’s why I believe that Allegheny is not only likely to be the sole county Biden carries in the Southwest, it’ll probably be the one county there not to have a GOP registration advantage soon. Cambria, Greene and Washington are the closest to a flip whereas Beaver is favored to be the last to fall (Wolf and Casey actually both carried it in 2018).
Whether it’s over two months, or five years, the trends in the commonwealth are clear. The GOP continues to gain strength in the Southwest and are translating that momentum to the crucially important Scranton/Wilkes-Barre corridor in the Northeast.
On the other side, Democrats are running up the numbers in the Southeast and expanding into the South Central.
Suddenly in the middle is Erie County, where the Dems are finally beginning to defend their ground. Republicans will need another solid performance there in November if they’re going to overcome the margin Dems are expected to post in Philly and its neighboring counties.
Correspondent Nick Field covers Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @Nick_Field90.