Thursday, December 01, 2016

What Went Wrong In The Philly Area That Resulted In 20 Electoral Votes-- And The Presidency-- For Trump?


I've gotten a load of great questions about Monday's post, The Democrats' 2016 Strategic Failure-- Closeup: Texas And Pennsylvania, many of them focused not on Hillary's triumphs in the historically Republican suburbs around Houston, Austin and San Antonio but about what happened in the Philly collar counties. Not all the numbers on the precinct level (or even the congressional district level) are in yet, so give me a couple of months and I'll try to explain in greater depth why Hillary's strategy worked in places like blue California and red Texas and Georgia (yes... the Atlanta suburbs too!) where it did her no electoral college good, but failed her in-- sorry for the nomenclature-- "the rust belt."

So... as we saw Monday, Tom Price's congressional district in the suburbs north of Atlanta was a virtual dead heat between Hillary and Trump-- 47.7% to 47.5%. That's shocking, especially when you consider Romney beat Obama in those same GA-06 suburbs 61-37%. That's a swing! But what happened in southeast Pennsylvania? Varad Mehta, a historian and election analyst who lives in the Philly burbs, took a stab at explaining what happened with the 4 main collar counties yesterday.

Like Schumer, ADA and Team Clinton, he believed an outreach to wealthy, college-educated moderate Republicans and independents in the suburbs ("professionals"), would offset gains Trump would make as it became clear that Democrats were no longer prioritizing the plight and legitimate concerns of downscale working families. Schumer was elected Senate Democratic Leader not long after he said "For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin ." As usual, Schumer was wrong-- wrong about Pennsylvania, wrong about Ohio and wrong about Wisconsin... he was probably wrong about Illinois as well, but it didn't matter one way or the other because the state is so blue and Clinton won it 55.4-39.4% (primarily by winning Cook County 74.4-21.4%). Anyway, here's Mehta's analysis for the Philly area. A more granular anlaysis of Bucks County than we were able to do Monday is extremely useful.

Barack Obama won Bucks County in 2012 by 4,000 votes. Hillary Clinton won Bucks County as well but her margin shrunk to 1,000 votes, a swing of 3,000 votes to Donald Trump. These raw totals however don’t tell the full story. Bristol Township, a heavily blue collar community (12% four-year college degrees) along the Delaware River swung to Trump by almost 4,200 votes, while Falls Township (21%) and Bensalem (27%) went red by 2,200 and 2,000 votes, respectively. Trump saw more modest but perceptible gains in numerous localities whose populations have a share of college-educated residents under 35%. On the other hand, Trump’s standing eroded in those parts of Bucks County with the highest share of residents with four-year degrees. Even in such places Trump won his margins diminished compared to Romney’s. Northampton Township (49% college-educated) remained red but swung 1,100 votes towards Clinton. Mitt Romney won Buckingham Township (58%) by 1,800 votes. Trump won it by just over 400, a shift of 1,300 towards Clinton. Obama won Newtown Township (61%) by ten votes over Romney. Clinton won it by 1,200.

Three municipalities exemplify Trump’s struggles with college-educated voters. Mitt Romney won Upper Makefield (the locality with the county’s highest share of college graduates [67%]) by 1,500 votes. Trump won it by just over 150, a swing of over 1,300 votes towards Clinton. Romney won Doylestown Township (49% bachelor’s degrees)  by 800 votes. Trump lost it 600, a shift of 1,400. The most dramatic pro-Clinton tilt occurred in Lower Makefield (just under 67%). Mitt Romney won it by just over 200 votes. Hillary Clinton won it by 2,900, a shift in her favor of 3,100.


A similar pattern plays out in Montgomery County, but on a much more extensive scale. When pundits forecast that Trump would lose Pennsylvania because of the Philadelphia suburbs, Montgomery County is what they had in mind: wealthy, white, and (over-)educated. They were right, too, as Trump managed to do a staggering 31,000 votes worse in MontCo than Romney did. Trump bled and bled and bled in MontCo. Compared to Trump’s 90,000-vote deficit, Romney’s arrears of 60,000 seems almost heroic. Twelve municipalities swung by a thousand votes or more towards Clinton, a baker’s dozen if you round up in a thirteenth. Lower Merion (76% college grads) stampeded towards Clinton to the tune of 7,700 votes. Upper Dublin (64%) experienced a blue shift of 2,600 votes. Whitpain (60%) swung by over 2,100 votes. The only reason there aren’t more four-figure swings towards Clinton is that there was very little left to squeeze in some places.


The most dramatic swing of suburban voters towards Clinton occurred in Chester County. Chester was the one collar county that Romney won, albeit by a slim margin of fewer than a thousand votes. Clinton took it by 25,000. Again the municipal results tell the story. Nearly 76 percent of Charlestown Township’s residents have four-year degrees. Mitt Romney won it by around 125 votes. This year it went for Hillary Clinton by almost 450, a swing of over 550 to her advantage. Romney won Birmingham Township (74%) by 600 votes. Clinton won it by over 120, a blue shift of over 700. Mitt Romney won East Bradford Township (68%) by 400, while Clinton won it by almost 650, a swing of over 1,000 votes to the Democratic nominee. Romney claimed East Goshen (57%) by 1,500 votes. Trump lost it by a handful. Romney won Easttown Township (75%) by approximately 800. Clinton took it by 1,000, a shift of 1,800 votes. The starkest example of the trend is Tredyffrin Township (76%). Romney lost it in 2012, but by a modest 600 votes. Trump, on the other hand, was crushed to the tune of 4,500 votes, for a total shift of nearly 3,900 votes in Clinton’s favor. All told, nine Chester County localities swung by four-digits towards Clinton, while over two dozen more shifted by three-digit margins. It all adds up to what was a slight GOP advantage in 2012 turning into a 25,000-vote deficit in 2016.


Completing our counter-clockwise tour of the Philadelphia collar, we come to Delaware County. Obama won it by around 60,000 votes in 2012 and Hillary won it by a little under 63,000. Like Bucks, though, Delco is something of a mixed bag because here too we find four-digit swings in both directions. Obama won Upper Chichester (24% bachelor’s degree or higher) by about 1,000 votes. Trump took it by about 100, a swing of 1,100 votes towards him. Ridley Township (23%) swung by 2,000 votes towards Trump. Obama beat Romney there by 800 votes; Trump beat Clinton by 1,200. There are various other municipalities where Trump improved on Romney’s performance by a few hundred votes. But Clinton benefited from a few that stampeded in her direction. Haverford (54%), which Obama and Clinton both won, saw a net shift of 3,100 votes towards Clinton. Radnor (71%), where Romney managed to keep his deficit under a thousand, saw Trump trounced by almost 4,500, a 3,500-vote improvement for Clinton. Romney barely took 600 votes in Swarthmore (80%), losing it by 2,100. But Trump managed to do even worse, getting just over 400 votes and losing by 2,700. It’s these smaller shifts that let Clinton improve by a couple thousand votes on Obama’s 2012 performance in Delaware County.

Mehta concludes, as we had, that Clinton did well enough in these counties as she needed to to make Schumer's delusion come true. Early polls had predicted a win for Clinton with as much as a 40% margin-- which would have given her the state and probably swept congressional candidates Steve Santisiero and Mary Ellen Balchunis into office. By election day polls were forecasting a still mammoth 20 point margin. That too was overly optimistic. "Obama," wrote Mehta, "won 690,000 votes in the Philly suburbs in 2012. Hillary Clinton received 729,000. Romney got 567,000. Trump dropped to 550,000. That’s a swing of 46,000 votes to Clinton. Perhaps suburban Philadelphians didn’t hate Trump, but they certainly didn’t like him much."

One problem with her strategy of appealing to these moderate Republicans and giving working class voters the short shrift was that "much of the advantage she accrued in the suburbs was wiped out in Philadelphia itself, a failure Democrats will rue for many years. Obama beat Romney there by 492,000 votes. Trump did only 10,000 votes better than Romney in the City of Brotherly Love (96,000 to 106,000), but Clinton received only 563,000 votes compared to Obama’s 588,000, a net swing of 35,000 towards the Republican candidate. Trump did worse in Philadelphia than John McCain, who lost the state, while Clinton did as well as John Kerry, who won... What Donald Trump demonstrated with this year’s electorate is that a historic turnout by white working class voters could be and in fact was-- contrary to the expectations of all but a handful of pundits-- sufficient to negate the Democrats’ traditional advantage in the Philadelphia region and put Pennsylvania in the GOP column for the first time since 1988."

That's something House Democrats will have to deal with now that they're finally rid of "messaging czar" Steve Israel, a Long Island Blue Dog who hates working class voters and is filled with racist prejudices that subtly skewered Democratic messaging away from the party base resulting in... well, 4 years of Trump/Pence and at least two more years of a Paul Ryan-led House. With Israel gone, there are no structural reasons why the Democrats shouldn't win back PA-06, PA-07 and PA-08, although by reelecting Pelosi yesterday-- and allowing her to reimpose incompetent Israel-clone Ben Ray Lujan as DCCC-- it will be a much tougher task than if Democrats had done the sensible thing and taken the DCCC out of her hands entirely, cleaned house over there and started fresh today.

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At 7:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Montgomery County is the epitome of Thomas Frank's Listen Liberal, highly educated technocrats who have lost touch with the demographics of their parents. They don't worry about income inequality, because they don't feel it. Their jobs aren't being sent to Mexico or China. They don't have to worry about health care costs, and their retirements were established safely long ago. To their credit, they did recognize the danger of Trump by not voting for him.

Frank's book maybe should have come out a year earlier when it might have reached more of these Montgomery County residents. They might have been astute enough to recognize the problems facing the lower economic classes and pushed the Democratic Party in directions which might have address the concerns of the workers. It's a long shot, but it's happened before.

Instead, the attitude of folks such as those living in Montgomery County can be summed up as "I got mine. Nothing else matters."

At 7:32 AM, Blogger Riggsveda said...

A friend directed me to this post while we were having a conversation about this very thing. As someone who lived in Philly and Wyndmoor for 22 years before retiring last year to Pike County to live (and vote), I wanted to give some input on this.

First, my husband was active in Montco Dem politics for about 11 years, and saw first-hand the way Chuck Schumer, with an assist from Rendell and the rest of the machine, fought both of Joe Sestak's candidacies for Senate, going so far as to withdraw all financial and other party support during the general when they couldn't stop him from running against Toomey the first time, and wastingg money that should have been used for campaigning in the general this year into McGinty's primary battle against him. We spoke in depth with Joe after this last election and learned how the party also threatened to withdraw support and donations to VoteVets if they didn't back off support for him. The party lost both times, thanks to the fact that maintaining power positions in the club has become more important to the leadership than winning seats and leading the country.

Second, we became involved in the Pike County Dem Committee once we moved up to Pike, and during the last month of the campaign, the PA state party made our volunteers and organizers leave the county to work in Bethlehem/Allentown, leaving us with almost no help in the last weeks, in a county that was going for Trump. In addition, we finally got someone to run in the primary against U.S. 10th District Rep Tom Marino, a disgusting piece of work who'd had no competition from Dems for years. He won the write-in and got on the general election ballot. We did what we could for him, and asked for help from the state party--money, guidance, whatever they could do--and heard crickets. He lost. They didn't care. The reason Dems lose these rural counties is not because Republicans outnumber Democrats (though they do). It's because the state party writes us off as being unimportant, and even though a strong, well-funded effort to run candidates and get out the vote could turn the tide, they don't care. They'd rather pick the low-hanging fruit of the cities than do the hard work of helping Dems in the hinterlands. And because of this they get more and more insular, and less aware of the rest of the people in the state, to the point that after the election they celebrate Marcel Groen for having done such a spectacular job losing it, and Groen himself is reduced to hoping that Trump, a fucking demonstrated sociopath, will be a "thoughtful" president who does the right thing. So we end up with a continuing disaster of a PA legislature controlled by Republicans, and when we get a Dem governor, he is hamstrung by the same kind of mulish lack of cooperation that Obama has had to deal with, and nothing useful gets done. Our districts are commandeered by Republican gerrymandering so that many of us no longer get true representation. Our school taxes continue to go up because Republicans won't fund the schools at the state level. Infrastructure work is on permanent hold because Republicans don't want to put taxes on the drilling industry that could help pay for it. This kind of blind deaf and dumb politicking is what got us into this mess in the first place. And when I have made this point to some of the Dems in Philly who are moaning about doing an analysis of how this all happened and coming up with a new strategy, I get ignored just like the Pike County Dems were ignored. Could it be any plainer, people?


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