Pa. voter trends: Republicans switching parties in reliably red counties and more
A mail-in ballot option for all voters is just one of the voting changes for Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election year. Wochit
The last presidential election was historic in Pennsylvania for multiple reasons, including a voter registration surge.
More than 738,000 new voters registered in 2016 to cast ballots for the first time.
Most years, about 150,000 to 200,000 new voters register in Pennsylvania, but having the first woman on a major ballot and the Trump phenomenon yielded a surge four years ago.
This year, Pennsylvania is seeing another uptick in voter registration. Just a little more than two months into the year, it's impossible to say what the final count will be in 2020. But current registrations are already outpacing the 2018 midterms, though they are about half of the unprecedented number of registrations in 2016.
As of Monday, there were 34,729 new voter applications in Pennsylvania, according to the most recent numbers available from the Department of State.
Here are five things you should know about this year's numbers so far, according to a York Daily Record analysis.
Results: Biden pulls ahead on Super Tuesday
1. Tens of thousands of voters are switching parties.
One of the keys to President Trump's Pennsylvania upset in 2016 was the nearly 200,000 voters that had switched parties to vote for him in the Republican primary and general election.
Now, it appears more Republicans are switching parties than Democrats.
There's always a theory that Pennsylvanians switch parties to be able to vote in the state's closed primary, which limits voters to cast ballots only for their registered party.
There's no way to prove that on an Excel spreadsheet, but the numbers do show that 28,137 Republicans and third-party voters have switched to the Democratic party since January. In that same time frame, some 18,937 Democrats and third-party voters have switched to the Republican party.
2. Southcentral Pennsylvania isn't as red as it used to be.
The primaries are here! How does one get elected in the first place and what is in store for the Democratic National Convention in 2020? We explain. USA TODAY
Register to vote by April 13: The Pa. primary is April 28.
For decades, a seven-county region in southcentral Pennsylvania was a Republican stronghold. And to be clear, there are still more registered Republicans than Democrats in the overwhelming majority of those counties.
But Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon, Lancaster and York counties are changing. Some areas, like Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster, are seeing a surge of Democratic voters. And York County, though outpaced in population by Lancaster County, is seeing more voters switch to the Republican Party than any other county in southcentral Pennsylvania.
But overall, more voters are switching to the Democratic Party in southcentral Pennsylvania than the Republican Party, and it's a statistic that started to change in 2019.
In the last two months, some 3,870 Republicans and third-party voters have switched to the Democratic Party, while 2,156 Democrats and third-party voters have switched to the Republican Party.
The biggest shift from Republican to Democrat occurred in Lancaster (657), Cumberland (403) and Dauphin (373) counties. The biggest shift from Democrat to Republican occurred in York County (398).
Hundreds of votes or a few thousand votes don't seem like much in a large state with 8.5 million voters. But in a battleground state like Pennsylvania, which Trump won by a narrow 44,000 votes in 2016, those numbers matter.
And it doesn't just affect the presidential race. It could have a big impact on down-ballot races.
Jesse White, district operations director for Progressive Turnout Project and political consultant at Perpetual Fortitude, is counting on it.
Progressive Turnout Project is heavily focused on flipping the 10th congressional district in Pennsylvania from red to blue. Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from York County, narrowly defeated Democratic challenger George Scott in 2018.
The grassroots organization is working to increase voter turnout in the district, which includes York, Cumberland and Dauphin counties, to elect a Democrat.
"Southeastern Pennsylvania usually votes blue, southwestern Pennsylvania has been leaning red. But southcentral Pennsylvania is growing more purple," White said.
3. Steelers Country is turning into Trump Country.
The City of Pittsburgh is reliably blue. But the counties surrounding it, where a fire hall fish fry is a rite of spring and Steelers flags proudly wave from front porches and trucks, are full of red.
The upper-class Republican communities in Allegheny County have been joined by blue-collar areas in Beaver and Washington Counties, and beyond, as they bought into Trump's signature slogan, "Make America Great Again."
A trend that started in 2016 is continuing this year. There are fewer Democrats this year than there were in 2016 in Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties. Meanwhile, there are more Republicans in each of those counties than there were in 2016.
- There are 517,562 registered Democrats this year in Allegheny County, compared to 520,135 in 2016. There are 248,994 registered Republicans there this year, compared to 246,088 four years ago.
- There are 53,429 registered Democrats this year in Beaver County, compared to 58,786 in 2016. There are 42,145 Republicans there this year, compared to 38,001 four years ago.
- There are 66,169 registered Democrats this year in Washington County, compared to 66,791 in 2016. There are 60,912 registered Republicans there this year, compared to 50,567 four years ago.
Changes in 2020: New mail-in ballots, other new voting rules in Pennsylvania
4. It's always blue in Philadelphia — and it's getting bluer.
There's been a saying for decades that you can't win Pennsylvania without winning the Philadelphia suburbs. Trump proved that untrue, at least for one year, when he won in 2016 without winning Philadelphia and its suburbs.
But the old adage became true again in 2018, when a five-county region in southeastern Pennsylvania sent a record number of women to U.S. Congress and state offices.
In 2019, history was made again. Democrats were elected to all five seats on the Delaware County Council, which had been held by a majority of Republicans since the Civil War. That same year, Democrats won the Board of Commissioners in Bucks County for the first time since 1983.
This year could yield a record Democratic turnout in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties. As of Monday, the five-county region had added 75,574 more registered Democrats than in 2016. The biggest increase was an addition of 20,214 Democrats in Montgomery County since the last presidential election.
In the same time period, the region has shed 31,384 Republicans from its voting rolls. The biggest loss was in Delaware County, where there are 16,981 fewer Republicans than in 2016.
5. There are 644,835 inactive voters in Pennsylvania.
From registering to vote to election day, here are the dates that are important for voters to know. Wochit
Pennsylvania could rock the vote a little harder.
There are 644,835 inactive voters in the state, including 418,777 inactive Democrats and 226,058 inactive Republicans, according to voter registration records.
The state defines an inactive voter as someone who has not voted in five years or has moved and not registered to vote in their new Pennsylvania county.
Think of a Penn State football game. Imagine a sellout crowd at Beaver Stadium. Multiply it by 6. Add 5,403 more people. That's how many registered voters in Pennsylvania are not actually voting.
That includes 80,862 voters in southcentral Pennsylvania throughout Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York Counties.
A closer look:
- Lancaster County: 20,040 inactive voters
- Cumberland County: 18,662 inactive voters
- York County: 16,926 inactive voters
- Dauphin County: 12,508 inactive voters
- Franklin County: 5,282 inactive voters
- Adams County: 3,943 inactive voters
- Lebanon County: 3,501 inactive voters
While those numbers pale in comparison to the more than 6.6 million active voters in Pennsylvania, every vote matters — especially in a battleground state. The 644,835 inactive voters here could easily decide the election.
Remember, in 2016, it was 44,000 votes that decided the winner.
The USA Today Network is working to register every voter, make it easy for voters to check their registration and find their polling place. You can find all of that here.
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.