High black Turnout isn’t Likely to Save Obama, but PA’s Fastest Growing Counties Can
President Obama’s prospects for reelection largely hinge on the health of the economy in 2012. Our last poll in the summer showed that only 41% approved of the president’s job performance (down from 45%), while a growing 48% plurality disapproved. When asked about reelecting him, only 44% said the President deserved to be reelected, while a 50% majority said someone else should be given a chance. Furthermore, by a 50-16 margin voters said the economy was actually WORSE OFF today than 12 months ago. Despite pundits who say the President’s reelection in the Keystone State depends on his ability to “get out his base” including record turnout from minorities and black voters, this is likely to have only a negligible effect. Rather, Obama’s fate will more likely be determined by to what extent he can rack up strong vote margins in the state’s fastest growing counties which are primarily the reason he won the state by more than 600,000 votes in 2008.
While exit polls confirm that blacks voted for Obama by a near 95-5 margin, this support is all but maxed out. For instance, in
2008 Obama beat John McCain in Philadelphia, which contains the state’s biggest concentration of black voters, by a margin of 458,784 votes due to record high turnout among minorities. By comparison, former presidential candidate John Kerry beat George Bush by 412,106 votes in Philadelphia in the 2004 presidential race, which means Obama got only 46,678 MORE votes than Kerry did [against Bush]. Since Obama won the state by 603,000 votes, this suggests optimized turnout from minorities is worth about 50,000 more votes and therefore not essential to his victory.
Instead, Obama’s vote margins in the 10 to 20 fastest growing counties are where he really made the biggest gains. A comparison of Obama/McCain results with Kerry/Bush results from 2004 shows that in all ten of the fastest growing counties Obama did an average of seven points BETTER [against McCain] than John Kerry did [against Bush]. These counties in ranking order from biggest
to smallest population gains include Chester, York, Montgomery, Lancaster, Berks, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Bucks and Cumberland. In South Central PA, many people are moving in from Maryland to escape overpriced housing. In the Pocono’s, it’s transplants from New Jersey and New York seeking lower property taxes and a better quality of life. In the Southeast, people are moving further away from Philadelphia and settling in the “exurbs” of Lancaster, Chester and Berks Counties. Our poll show what these new residents have in common is that they are not straight ticket Republican or Democratic voters, but rather “swing” voters who split their tickets in most elections, in which case they become target-rich territories. What perhaps most don’t realize is that these 10 counties account for more than 1 in 3 total votes cast in a statewide election, or sixty percent when added to the growth counties ranking 11 through 20.
Lancaster County is a good example because it is the 4th fastest growing county with a net gain of 48,000 more people according to the 2010 census. Although McCain beat Obama in Lancaster County, Obama managed to shave 44,078 votes off of McCain’s vote margin when compared with George Bush’s 71,263-vote margin in 2004. This is huge because it means this single county
by itself almost completely negates the 46,678 ADDITIONAL votes Obama managed to win out of Philadelphia due to record black turnout in 2008.
To extrapolate this even further, when looking at all ten of the fastest growing counties combined, the cumulative number of votes Obama either shaved off of McCain’s margin (in counties like Lancaster and others) or votes Obama improved over Kerry’s margins in counties he and Kerry both won (e.g., Montgomery, Lehigh and Bucks) is 246,664, or almost a quarter of a million! So had McCain simply stopped Obama from making gains in these ten counties, and adding these nearly one quarter million
more votes to his tallies, McCain would have gotten 48.5% of the total vote in 2008, while Obama’s percentage would have fallen to 50.4%. If McCain could have added even more votes by stopping some of Obama’s gains in other growth counties like Franklin, Centre and Dauphin (which rank 11th, 12th and 13th in growth), we are now talking about a McCain victory and an Obama defeat.
The good news for Republicans is that almost all of these top growth counties have proven they will vote Republican both at the top of the ticket and down ballot. Many proved this the case when they voted for both Corbett for governor in 2010, and at the same time elected Republicans to the state legislature in districts that just a few years ago elected Democrats. So if the GOP can be more
competitive in these top 10 to 20 growth counties it could marginalize any impact that higher minority turnout will have on the President’s margins in Philadelphia and other urban centers. It is these growth counties therefore, and not minority turnout in Philadelphia, that represent the real prize in next year’s presidential race.