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

Thursday, December 1, 2016 15:15
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(Before It's News)


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.

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis


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