Mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania go out on Sept. 14, and Republicans are seeing continued growth in voter registration, a Capital-Star analysis has found.
While it was a disappointing summer for the GOP in national polls, they made impressive voter registration gains throughout the commonwealth. It now seems quite likely that the differing partisan responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are responsible for this dynamic. After all, if you’re taking social distancing seriously, you’re less likely to knock on doors and approach strangers.
A month ago, the Democratic margin statewide was 783,116. It currently stands at 758,854. Altogether, that’s 4,121,353 Democrats, 3,362,499 Republicans and 1,241,714 others for a grand total of 8,725,566 registered voters.
Now, let’s dig into the county-by-county numbers.
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.
With COVID cases growing on campus at Penn State, Democrats may not get their usual bump from new and returning students in Centre County. The large boost the GOP got in small counties such as Northumberland, Blair and Clearfield counties is a perfect showcase of President Donald Trump’s strength in rural areas.
Lycoming County is another example of the dynamic I just mentioned. If Trump is going to repeat his performance from four years ago, he’ll need to do even better in the sparsely populated spots that dot the commonwealth.
Judging by trends, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Joe Biden can win back Luzerne County. The major question, though, is what former Vice President Joe Biden’s numbers in Lackawanna County will look like. If the Democratic nominee can’t bounce back in a big way in this region, victory will be exceedingly difficult.
Despite some encouraging stories out of Erie for the Dems, they aren’t seeing that reflected in the voter registration numbers. This lakeside Obama/Trump county will be one of the most closely watched on Election Night.
This is a prime example of how well the summer went for the GOP. South central Pennsylvania was an area of growth for Dems over the past few years, specifically in counties such as Cumberland and Lancaster counties. This reversal, as well as the GOP surge in York, should please Rep. Scott Perry as he seeks to fend off a challenge from term-linited Auditor General Eugene DePasquale
The good news for Biden is that his party continues to rack up gains in Philly and most of its suburbs. That Bucks County statistic, however, is arguably the most ominous one in this piece for the Democratic Party. It shows that their momentum from 2018 has swung back to the GOP.
More than forty percent of the state’s population resides in the southeast, so Biden can withstand defeats elsewhere only if he can run up the score here. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins won’t cut it, Biden will have to finish closer to Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2018 performance. That means he needs major wins in Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton as well as Chester, Delaware and Montgomery.
The Southwest remains the GOP’s most fruitful area, as ancestral Appalachian Democrats are taking the plunge and changing their partisan registration. While most of these voters have been supporting Republican candidates for years, their sheer volume remains imposing. Especially when Allegheny, unlike Philadelphia, isn’t seeing any Democratic growth of its own.
Last month I laid out three questions to gauge what the voter registration trends we’re telling us. Well, all three favored the Republicans in August. We also saw a new Monmouth Poll this week, which had Biden’s lead in the Keystone State narrow from 13 down to four points.
It appears then that Republicans are coming home in two ways. First, disaffected Democrats are finally officially joining the GOP. Second, soft Trump voters are now resolved to show up and vote. Neither of these events is particularly surprising, yet they underscore just how challenging flipping Pennsylvania will ultimately prove for the Democratic Party.
I’ll be back with one last update after the voter registration deadline on October 19th. Make sure you’re counted.
Correspondent Nick Field covers Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star.