Key: Navy – 2023 5,000 or more turnout increase, Blue – 2023 1,001 to 4,999 turnout increase, Light Skyblue – 2023 1 to 1,000 turnout increase. Light Salmon – 2023 1 to 1,000 turnout decrease, Red – 2023 1,001 to 4,999 turnout decrease, Maroon – 2023 5,000 or more turnout decrease. (Map by Nick Field via Dave’s Redistricting)
This may have been an off-year election, but that doesn’t mean Pennsylvania’s voters weren’t engaged in 2023.
Preliminary figures show that over 3 million Pennsylvania voters (3,060,791 so far) showed up to the polls on Tuesday, a noted step up from the total turnout in 2021, the last cycle that featured a state Supreme Court contest on the ballot. Back then 2,769,282 voters cast a ballot for either Republican nominee Kevin Brobson or Democratic nominee Maria McLaughlin.
Four years ago, Brobson was able to win his race by just under a point with 1,397,100 votes. This week, however, Republican nominee Carolyn Carluccio received 1,426,743 votes and still lost by more than six points.
So where exactly did this surge of voters come from? Obviously the first place to look is Philadelphia, where there was a mayoral race at the top of the ballot in the city.
In 2021, there were 214,299 Philly residents who voted in that year’s state Supreme Court race. Without all the 2023 votes fully counted, there area already 286,984 ballots recorded in the City of Brotherly Love. That amounts to a 72,685 increase, the largest in the commonwealth.
On top of that, there were also significant increases in the collar counties around Philadelphia. These differences were particularly prevalent in Montgomery and Chester Counties.
- 2021: 190,910
- 2023: 197,631
- Increase: 6,721
- 2021: 142,203
- 2023: 156,217
- Increase: 14,014
- 2021: 145,251
- 2023: 151,210
- Increase: 5,959
- 2021: 222,292
- 2023: 248,947
- Increase: 26,655
This surge wasn’t limited to southeast Pennsylvania, however. Allegheny County had high-profile County Executive and District Attorney contests, which helped boost the county’s turnout from 295,163 in 2021 to 358,610 on Tuesday,.
Among the other counties that saw massive jumps in turnout from 2021 were Lancaster (+12,537), Cumberland (+7,833), Beaver (+6,417), Westmoreland (+5,538), Butler (+5,522) and Monroe (+5,087).
Finally, there’s the question of which candidate benefited most from the surge in turnout. Naturally we would surmise that it McCaffery. But McCaffery underperformed in Erie County, which also happened to see a huge turnout drop from 67,311 in 2021 to 59,691 this year.
Yet low turnout didn’t hurt McCaffery everywhere, as some areas of meager growth were also the same places where McCaffery most improved his share of the vote compared to McLaughlin.
For instance, Lehigh County had barely any increase in turnout, while Northampton actually fell short of its 2021 turnout. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, McCaffery won 57% in both counties whereas McLaughlin got just 51% in each of them.
At the same time, neighboring Berks County saw a huge jump in turnout from 72,413 to 81,625, and McCaffery managed to improve on McLaughlin’s performance by eight points.
So what could account for this spike in overall turnout? There’s one obvious difference between the political environment in 2021 and now: the June 2022 Dobbs decision, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.
Since that point, pro-choice candidates have won numerous statewide referenda and judicial races, with Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court contest serving as only the latest example. All this suggests that abortion rights will be a clear motivating issue, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide, during the 2024 presidential election cycle.
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