PA May Determine Who Wins the White House
…And this may surprise you, but the GOP is making inroads
By Steve Dull, Senior Consultant, Susquehanna Polling and Research, Inc
Pennsylvania will be every bit a toss-up state as it was in 2004 and may very well be the key to which party wins the White House in November. If anything, the state is trending slightly Republican in voting patterns based on the last two presidential elections this decade. The growth areas in the state and the west are trending Republican to offset the increasing Democratic trends in the suburbs. Increasing Democratic registration gains have had little if any impact on how the state is voting. What is more significant is that despite the fact that Barack Obama spent nine millions dollars in campaign ads in the state, which is a state record, and McCain spent very little, no polls have shown Obama receiving fifty percent of the vote in the Keystone State. So what voting demographic will determine who wins this state and perhaps the White House?
Perhaps no statistic is more overrated than voter registration. In 2004, Pennsylvania was the third closest state won by the Democrats for President (behind Wisconsin and New Hampshire). For example, in 2000 the Democrats enjoyed a 485,000 voter registration advantage and in that year, the nation voted equally between George Bush and Al Gore, while Pennsylvanians voted for Gore by a 4.2 point margin. In 2004 the Democrats were able to increase this margin to 580,000 voters, and while the nation voted 51/48 for President Bush, the Keystone State voted only 50.9% to 48.4% for Kerry, or only a 2.5 point margin, and the actual vote margin was reduced by 60,592 votes from 2000, which resulted in a 144,248-vote win for the Democrats. This means despite the increased gains in Democratic registration, their vote margins actually shrank. Though both sides in the state will make major efforts to register voters, it is mainly how existing registered voters and those voters who register or consider themselves independent vote on Election Day that will determine the outcome.
The GOP made gains in the western and rural counties of the central “T” and the growth counties. The growth areas which lean Republican is generally an oblique line running from the Pocono’s (leaning Democrat) through the exurbs of Philadelphia (leaning GOP) to the south central border counties ending along the Franklin County Mason Dixon line (trending Republican). This line has been a major factor in offsetting the continuing trend of the Philadelphia suburbs to vote Democratic. Even in the city of Philadelphia the GOP received 19% of both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential vote despite a massive voter registration effort to register minorities, college-age and alternative life style voters to reflect the changing demographics, which admittedly did result in a big increase in turnout there. However, in 2004 many historically, working-class Jewish divisions concerned by national security and international terrorism voted slightly more GOP in Philadelphia to offset slight Democratic gains from 2000 elsewhere in the city.
This is a state of swing voters. I come from a family of swing voters. My father was a registered Democrat, the party of his father. He was a skilled, blue collar union member. He switched to Republican registration to win nomination in the primary for tax collector in our predominately GOP town. However over the next three Presidential elections he voted for the Presidential candidate of three different parties without changing his political party registration because of how he viewed the most important issue at the time in each of those elections. It will be this type of voter without regard to registration but more driven by the key wedge issues of the election that will determine the outcome in the state.
Because it is how people vote that is most important, polling is the best guide to the future. What is most shocking is that Obama, unlike Hillary Clinton, is still unable to get to 50% in general election polling in the state despite outspending Clinton 3-1, and John McCain spending next to nothing in the April 22 primary here. Obama might be over performing among “hope and change” college kids and Africa Americans but he had his difficulties in the primary among 60 and over voters who I call “JFK Democrats “even though he was strongly endorsed by Senator Bob Casey, the son of a late prototypical JFK Democrat. Some of these Democrats may have never voted GOP for President but are up for grabs this time in November. They are centered in the coal regions of western and northeastern part of the state that Hillary Clinton carried by 2 and 3 to 1 margins in the Democratic Primary. It will be primarily these voters whom Obama insulted with his “cling to guns and religion” remark in the Primary who will determine which Presidential candidate carries the state.
With five months to go, the ‘08 Presidential Election is very much up for grabs in the nation and in Pennsylvania. Will it be the change of expanding the government sector in the economy through higher taxes, appeasement of foreign dictators in hope of avoiding military deaths and cultural liberalism or change driven by a market-based economy, using the military to stand up to international terrorism, and supporting judges who believe in traditional values? Pennsylvania may very well be the Keystone State that determines what kind of “change” we will have in November.