Since our last voter registration update former Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed a Democratic primary season resurgence, President Donald Trump got impeached and a potential pandemic broke out across the globe.
Given this frenetic pace, it seemed necessary to write a new installment before Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary. After all, who knows what will transpire between now and then?
Before diving into the regions, I did want to lay out the top-line numbers, with the commonwealth currently sitting at 8,533,170 total voters. Among them are 4,058,718 Democrats and 3,256,004 Republicans, resulting in an 802,714-voter advantage for Democrats.
Now to look at the various corners of the state and dig in to see the trends underneath.
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.
This was the most surprisingly strong section of the state for Democrats. After some concerning trends in Centre County last year, the party is seeing gains again in the home of Penn State. They’ll need young voters here, and in Union County’s Bucknell University, to turn out in November. That could be a challenge if Biden does ultimately defeat U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for the nomination.
This red portion of Pennsylvania continues to get redder. As hard as it may be to believe, Dems actually had a registration advantage in Elk on Election Night 2016. On Election Night 2020, it will be an afterthought.
Up in the Northeast, the GOP continues to thrive. Once blue Carbon County is now solidly red, yet the real headlines are in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. As I’ve noted before, Trump’s winning margin in Pennsylvania was less than the vote swing in just those two counties. The president is quite aware of this too, as he held a Fox News town hall this month in Scranton, Biden’s birthplace, and destined to be a major electoral battleground. The silver lining for Dems is that Monroe County seems resistant to this tide.
Here we find another red flag for the Democratic Party. Despite recent polling showing Trump running behind Biden and Sanders in Erie, the county is still seeing Republican gains. This is the second Obama/Trump County (Luzerne was the first) in our review and so far the GOP is 2-for-2. Pennsylvania’s’s sole Great Lakeside county is one to keep an eye on all year.
Here, however, is some good news for Democrats. Harrisburg and its suburbs continue to flee Trump’s GOP, leading to gains in both Dauphin and Cumberland counties.
This same shift is occurring in Lancaster County, a development I’ve puzzled over for awhile. Lancaster just can’t seem to stomach Trump, to the point that it led the state percentage-wise for Libertarian Gary Johnson four years ago. This is definitely more of a long-term development but Dems should nevertheless be thrilled at the seeds of growth here.
The southeast, of course, remains the bluest portion of them all. Philly, Montgomery and and Delaware counties continue to post healthy gains while the Bucks bounce-back appears to be complete. Furthermore, Democrats are on the verge of eclipsing the GOP in Chester County (Pennsylvania’s only Romney/Clinton County).
Last time, I explained how the three Lehigh counties may very well determine the November result. As you can see, Berks remains the most difficult for Dems to crack while Lehigh County is their best bet. Meanwhile, the third Obama/Trump county of Northampton took an encouraging turn these past few months.
Don’t focus too much on that eye-popping Allegheny County number. I imagine that, much like Philly last fall, a periodic update of the voter rolls is responsible for that shift.
Still the Southwest remains a rising red sea for the GOP. Ancestral Democratic counties such Beaver, Fayette and Greene counties continue to bleed away support. Lawrence County will likely be a Republican county by my next update and at this pace Cambria County won’t be too far behind.
By taking a look at these numbers, and the map above, you’ll see one of the most stark examples yet of that Acela/Appalachia divide I’m always talking about. As the Southwest gets redder, the Southeast gets bluer.
Beyond that, the three counties that switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 tell us a lot about how the race currently stands. Luzerne County looks like a lost cause for Dems at this point, while Northampton is showing some resiliency. In the middle are the mixed messages of Erie County.
There aren’t really any realistic Republican targets out there for Dems right now (with the possible exception of Cumberland).
As a result, their goal is to run up the margins as much as possible in Philadelphia and its collar counties, while winning back as many Obama/Trump voters as possible in the rest of the commonwealth. We’ll be here to watch the numbers and monitor their progress on the road to November.
Correspondent Nick Field, of Bucks County, covers southeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star.