PA: Understanding What Happened

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 17, 2017 — Now that the 2016 presidential election result has been dissected into congressional districts, we have the ability to understand just how Donald Trump scored his upset presidential win. Pennsylvania was one of the key battleground states, and arguably the one that put President Trump over the top.

As in most states, Hillary Clinton performed very well in the cities and inner suburbs – usually even better than President Obama’s commensurate and victorious 2012 totals – but Trump’s performance in the outer suburbs and rural areas, where turnout notably increased, outdid her stout showing.

Examining Pennsylvania, and looking at the state through metro congressional districts and comparing them to those in outer suburb and rural regions, we see starkly different trends.

Metro Congressional Districts: Clinton carried all but the 8th — PA-1 (Philadelphia: Bob Brady-D), PA-2 (Philadelphia: Dwight Evans-D), PA-6 (Chester County: Ryan Costello-R), PA-7 (Delaware County: Pat Meehan-R), PA-8 (Bucks County: Brian Fitzpatrick-R), PA-13 (Montgomery County: Brendan Boyle-D), and PA-14 (Pittsburgh: Mike Doyle-D).

Outer Suburban/Rural CDs, with population anchor: Trump won all — PA-3 (Erie County: Mike Kelly-R), PA-4 (Dauphin County: Scott Perry-R), PA-5 (State College/Northwestern PA: Glenn Thompson-R), PA-9 (south-central PA: Bill Shuster-R), PA-10 (Lycoming County: Tom Marino-R), PA-11 (Luzerne County: Lou Barletta-R), PA-12 (Beaver/ Cambria Counties: Keith Rothfus-R), PA-15 (Lehigh Valley: Charlie Dent-R), PA-16 (Lancaster County: Lloyd Smucker-R), PA-17 (Lackawanna County: Matt Cartwright-D), and PA-18 (Westmoreland County: Tim Murphy-R).

To re-cap, Trump scored a 48.6 – 47.8 percent Pennsylvania victory over Clinton — an official margin of 44,292 votes with a turnout of 6,115,402 individuals or 75.5 percent of those registered — a 6.3 percent statewide increase over the 2012 presidential participation rate.

In the metro congressional districts, Clinton racked up 63.2 percent of the vote, below former President Obama’s 64.1 percent in the same areas four years earlier but swamping Trump’s 33.6 percent, as expected. In fact, the Republican nominee’s regional performance was even lower than Mitt Romney’s 34.8 percent. The 2016 metro regions turnout was 2,512,876, up 4.8 percent from 2012.

In the rural districts, the exact opposite occurred. Trump’s margin over Clinton soared to 22 points, 59.1 – 37.1 percent, with a voter turnout rate increase of 7.9 percent over the figures reported for 2012. To compare, Mitt Romney’s regional spread over then-President Obama was only 11.8 percent. Therefore, the virtual doubling of Romney’s margin over Obama in the rural and outer suburban regions is the baseline for the Trump Pennsylvania victory.

The swing from the Obama-Romney race to Clinton-Trump in certain areas was stunning. Leading the way in this regard was the eastern Pennsylvania 17th District of Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Moosic; Wilkes-Barre; Scranton; Easton). Here, Trump exceeded Mitt Romney’s district total by more than 24,000 votes, while the former Secretary of State fell over 42,000 below Obama’s CD total. Therefore, the vote swing toward Trump was greater than 66,000 from this one congressional district alone.

Other districts were major factors, too. GOP Rep. Bill Shuster’s 9th CD (Hollidaysburg; Altoona; Chambersburg; Somerset County) saw a combined swing of 55,000 votes (Clinton performing below Obama plus Trump exceeding Romney’s total). Both the 10th (Rep. Tom Marino-R; Williamsport; northeastern PA) and 11th (Rep. Lou Barletta-R; Hazelton; Harrisburg suburbs; Carlisle) reported combined swings of more than 48,000 votes, while representatives Mike Kelly’s (R-Butler; Erie County) 3rd and Glenn Thompson’s (R-Howard; State College; Punxsutawney; Erie County) 5th each yielded swings of greater than 46,000 votes.

Though the entire state turned out in significantly higher numbers than 2012 – all 18 congressional districts saw voter participation figures topping 300,000, for example – the extraordinary totals coming from the rural areas is clearly what led to Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania, which of course provided the base for his national upset win. It’s even more stunning when comprehending that the Clinton campaign comfortably exceeded its own vote goals and victory margin projections for the metro congressional districts.

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