Pennsylvania was extremely close in 2016 and likely will be again. Like Florida, it’s a major battleground State, but unlike Florida, Pennsylvania has gone to the Democrats every election since Bush the First in 1990. What happened to switch Pennsylvania is somewhat different from what happened to flip Florida.
Trump won by 0.7% or only 44,292 votes of nearly 6,000,000 votes cast. That’s a 500,000 more votes cast in 2016 than in 2012 (200,000 more than in 2008). The population didn’t increase much, so unlike Florida, that alone could not account for the significant increase in voter turnout.
Unlike Florida, which has always been tight, Obama won Pennsylvania in 2012 by 288,000 votes (even more in 2008). To get to a margin of 44,000, Trump needed 332,000 new voters to vote for him (288,000 to overcome Obama’s win, plus the 44,000 margin of victory).
That means of the half million new voters, 416,000 of them had to vote for Trump, which is amazing. But, while 416,000 new, likely white lower- to middle-class Americans voted for Trump, 84,000 new Democrats since 2012 also showed up and voted for Hillary.
With 500,000 more voters, it sounds like everyone showed up, but did all the Democrats vote? Clearly Republicans showed up. For Biden/Harris to swing the State back, they need all the Democrat voters they can muster.
In 2008, a commanding win for Obama, 5.8 million people showed up to vote (300,000 more than in 2012, but still 200,000 fewer than in 2016). Obama won by 606,000 votes, or 55% of the vote.
So about 300,000 voters did not show up at all in 2012. Of those 300,000 voters, 55% or 165,000 voted Democrat in 2008 did not vote in 2012. As noted above, by 2016, 84,000 of them returned to the polls and voted Democrat. Few likely switched, because we are accounting for 500,000 new voters from 2012 to 2016, not a change in who voted for whom.
So, 165,000 Pennsylvanians voted for Obama in 2008, but did not vote in 2012. 84,000 of them returned in 2016. That leaves 81,000 Pennsylvanians who voted Democrat in 2008 who did not come back and vote for Hillary in 2016.
In fact, it appears they did not vote at all. If a little over half of them had voted Democrat in 2016, it would have been enough to have swung the State. To win, Biden/Harris need to get those voters back. I have not idea whether they can.
So, who were these apathetic Pennsylvanians?
Perhaps they were many of the same Democrats who knew Obama would win in 2012, and also thought Hillary would win the State easily in 2016, and so again chose not to show up. To win, Biden/Harris need to motivate them to show up this time.
What if voting by African Americans in Pennsylvania reflected the nation, dropping by 7%? The population is 12% African American, which is a bit over 1.5 million people. African Americans register to vote at a rate of 63% in Pennsylvania, which means there are about 950,000 voters in this group. If voting was down by 7%, for whatever reason, that would be a loss of as many as 66,000 votes. Is this an opportunity for Biden/Harris?
There was less complacency in Pennsylvania than in 2012, but there appears to have been enough among Democrats to lose the State. It was a narrow victory in a hard-fought battleground that will be fought just as hard this time around.
2016 over 6 million votes. Margin of victory 0.7% or only 44,292 votes. That is a vote swing of over 330,000.
2012 just under 5.5 million votes. Margin of victory 5.2%, 288,000 votes.
In 2008, Pennsylvania was not even considered a battleground State and Obama won it by an 11% margin of victory.
This is a State that Biden/Harris must flip back to their side by getting their voters out to the polls. But can they?
If all the Democrats that will vote in Pennsylvania, about 81,000 more than voted in 2016, and Trump can get his supporters out in force again, then this could be an uphill battle. If Biden/Harris can get the 81,000 or so Democrats who voted in 2008 but did not vote in 2016, or switched sides, to get out and vote for them, they can win. Pennsylvania is a true and critically important battleground State and may again be a very tight race.