In 2008, I was 14 years old and a proud supporter of then-Sen. Obama, I watched the Pennsylvania primary as then-Sen. Hillary Clinton swept the working class western part of the state as Obama swept the eastern part of Pennsylvania. In 2016, Clinton again won the Pennsylvania primary. I always viewed Pennsylvania as the consistent state that wavered, but in the end always sided with the Democrats. There were times when Republicans won in Pennsylvania such as Sen. Toomey (R) in 2010, but they won by making inroads in the Philadelphia suburbs. In 2012, however, Obama won Pennsylvania by five points despite Romney’s inroads not only in the Philadelphia suburbs, but also in West Pennsylvania’s working class areas. It seemed impossible that Trump could win enough votes in West Pennsylvania to offset the Philadelphia suburbs that trended toward Clinton. Unfortunately, however, he did. Some analysts have blamed low Democratic turnout in Philadelphia for Clinton’s loss.
This article will analyze how Trump won Pennsylvania and examine many regions including: the Philadelphia metropolitan area, Southeast Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, Lancaster), West Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Erie) and Northeast Pennsylvania (Scranton, Poconos).
This is the second article of a series analyzing swing states post election. My Florida analysis can be found here:
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Pennsylvania’s 2016 Two Party Vote:
Red: Trump by 20%+
Light Red: Trump by 10%-19%
Tan: Trump by 0%-9%
Light Blue: Clinton by 0%-9%
Blue: Clinton by 10%-19%
Dark Blue: Clinton by 20%+
Shift in 2016 vs. 2012:
Red: 10+ gain for Trump
Light Red: 5%-9% gain for Trump
Tan: 0%-4% gain for Trump
Light Blue: 0%-4% gain for Clinton
Blue: 5%-9% gain for Clinton
Philadelphia Metropolitan Area:
Clinton’s strategy relied on increasing turnout in Philadelphia and its suburbs at such a high number that it would offset all of Trump’s gains throughout other parts of the state. Many analysts blame Clinton’s loss in Pennsylvania on low Philadelphia turnout. Clinton did garner less votes than Obama in 2012 in Philadelphia; her margin decreased by 17,000 votes (and it was only 2,000 votes lower than Obama’s 2008 margin in Philadelphia). Even if Clinton had won Philadelphia by the same margin as Obama in 2012 though, it would not be enough for her to win - so Philadelphia is not responsible for Clinton’s loss.
In fact, Clinton’s margin in the Philadelphia metropolitan area was higher than Obama’s margin. While her margin shrank by 17,000 votes in Philadelphia city proper, her margin in the Philadelphia suburbs ( historically a bellwether area) increased by 62,000 votes. She flipped historically Republican-leaning Chester County and increased Democratic margins in Montgomery County (31,000 votes) and Delaware County (6,000 votes). Even Bucks County- a bellwether in all Senate, Gubernatorial and Presidential Elections since 2000- voted for Clinton. Bucks County is a mix of working class voters and wealthy suburbanites. Clinton still carried Bucks County by 3,000 votes.
Overall, Clinton won the Philadelphia metropolitan area by 659,000 votes and increased the Democratic margin by 45,000 votes, performing extremely well here and winning two thirds of the vote.
Philadelphia data table:
(for full data table click here:)
This region contains York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Dauphin, Cumberland, Berks, Northampton and Lehigh Counties. It is a Republican leaning area with a few Democratic pockets such as Dauphin County (Harrisburg) and Lehigh County (Allentown). Lehigh and Northampton Counties are historically bellwether and combined they voted for Clinton, suggesting that they may be trending more Democratic than the state as a whole. Their growing Latino populations (22% in Lehigh, 12% in Northampton) may be helping their Democratic trend relative to other working class areas in Pennsylvania with minimal or no Latino growth.
Trump increased the Republican margin in this region by 67,000 votes, but there is a warning sign. The trend in the Lancaster/Harrisburg area, while the counties did trend toward Trump, they were very narrow (Lancaster, Cumberland and Dauphin Counties trended only one, one and three points respectively toward Trump). Lancaster County, a historically Republican county, gave George W. Bush a 71,000 vote margin in 2004, but gave Trump only a 47,000 vote margin in 2016. Cumberland County is a suburban county next to Harrisburg and is located in the region due to its connection to Harrisburg even though it may geographically fit in Central Pennsylvania. The surrounding counties such as York also gave strong margins to Bush in 2004, making Pennsylvania close. Decreasing Republican margins in Lancaster and Cumberland Counties as well as keeping Dauphin County blue are key to Democrats ensuring that 2016 was a fluke and not the norm.
Southeast Pennsylvania Data Table:
For full data table click here:
This region is one of the most famous regions within Pennsylvania politics, due to its voting trends and problems it has given the Democrats recently. In 2008, West Pennsylvania became well known when the Obama campaign worked hard there to ensure that he would not lose the state after his poor primary performance in West Pennsylvania.
Some definitions of West Pennsylvania extends its boundary further east into the Appalachian Mountains. This article’s definition includes the Pittsburgh area and the heavily unionized counties along the Ohio border such as Washington, Beaver and Erie Counties.
Despite Pittsburgh’s working class history which could spell trouble for Clinton, she actually increased the margin in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) by 17,000 votes due to Pittsburgh’s changing downtown and wealthy suburbs that may be historically Republican but trended toward Clinton as did the Philadelphia suburbs. Trump did make gains in the heavily white industrial counties such as Beaver and Washington. He increased Republican margins there by 10,000 and 12,000 votes respectively. Trump also flipped historically Democratic Erie County which in 2012 had voted for Obama by 16 points.
Trump gained about seven points in West Pennsylvania, while making strong gains in the industrial counties, his gains were blunted a bit by Pittsburgh and its changing demographics. While West Pennsylvania is considered a large component of Trump’s gains, they were not as strong as the part of the state in the next paragraph.
West Pennsylvania Data Table:
For full data table, click here:
Many analysts suggest that Trump’s win was based on his margin from West Pennsylvania. As the results show, there was another area that trended more strongly for Trump: Northeast Pennsylvania around Scranton. In 2012, Romney’s disconnect with blue collar workers and Biden’s connection to Scranton may have prevented Romney from obtaining strong gains here (Obama actually improved in Scranton compared to 2008). Trump, however, made strong gains in Northeast Pennsylvania. While working class counties such as Beaver and Washington shifted about 12 points more Republican than 2012, working class counties in Northeast Pennsylvania shifted more than 20 points more Republican.
For example, Clinton did not need to win Susquehanna County, a heavily working class county in Northeast Pennsylvania. She did not even need to lose narrowly, she could manage to lose by about 20 points which Obama did in 2012. Instead, she lost by over 40 points and lost by similar margins in many Pennsylvania counties demographically similar to Susquehanna. There were more stark examples for Clinton in Northeast Pennsylvania as well. The biggest swing was in Schuylkill County with a 31 point swing to Trump. Romney won by 14 points in 2012, Trump won by 45 points.
Even though Clinton flipped suburban Chester County near Philadelphia and won there by 25,000 votes, Trump flipped historically Democratic Luzerne County near Scranton and won there by 26,000 votes. Luzerne County is over 90% White and is heavily working class. While Bucks County is the historical bellwether in Pennsylvania, perhaps the new bellwether should be the combined votes of Luzerne and Chester Counties. A win in Chester County would show how strongly a candidate is performing in the Philadelphia suburbs as a Luzerne County win would show how strongly a candidate is performing in working class voters in Pennsylvania.
Obama won Northeast Pennsylvania by four points. If Trump won Northeast Pennsylvania by nine instead of 19 points, Clinton would have won Pennsylvania, even if the margins stayed the same in the other regions. Northeast Pennsylvania may have cast roughly 8% of the votes in Pennsylvania but its impact on the election was much greater than 8%.
Northeast Pennsylvania Data Table:
For full data table click here:
Overall, how was Trump able to win Pennsylvania?
At first glance, Trump should have lost Pennsylvania due to the historic losses he faced in the Philadelphia suburbs. He lost Bucks County which is normally a bellwether in not only Presidential, but also state elections. He also lost Chester County which Clinton flipped from 2012 and is normally more Republican than the rest of the state.
Trump made up some ground in West Pennsylvania where had had a seven point gain, he made some ground in Southeast Pennsylvania where had a six point gain and he also gained in Central Pennsylvania. The one area, though, that saw the fastest shift to Trump is Northeast Pennsylvania which voted for Obama by four points, but voted for Trump by 18 points. If the margins throughout the rest of Pennsylvania stayed consistent and there was only a 13 point shift to Trump in Northeast Pennsylvania and Clinton lost by nine points there, she would have won Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is not the reason for Clinton’s loss, she could have matched Obama’s 2012 margin there and still lost. While 2016 showed Democrats can produce strong margins in the Philadelphia suburbs, have high turnout in Philadelphia and can hold their own in parts of Southeast Pennsylvania, they need to devote more time and energy to more rural regions of Pennsylvania in order to win in 2018 and 2020, especially Northeast Pennsylvania.