Monday (technically until midnight) was the last day Pennsylvanians could register to vote or switch their party affiliation for the April 26 primary. It’s a closed primary, so if you want to vote for a certain Democrat or Republican, you must be a registered Democrat or Republican.
And about a month before the election Donald Trump appears to be looming large in the minds of Philadelphians, based on their voter registration patterns. As of noon today, according to the office of City Commissioner Al Schmidt, 2,697 Democrats had switched their affiliation to Republican since January 1. Another 754 had switched from a third party or independent to Republican. Statewide, the number of GOP converts — from Democrat, independent or a third party — is 128,000. These numbers are not final and will likely rise after last-minute changes are tallied in the coming days.
Most of the switching in Philly is going on in the Northeast, the most conservative area of Philadelphia and where many voters register as Democrats so they can vote in local primaries.
In the 66th ward, clear at the top of the Northeast, 238 voters have switched from Democrat to Republican and another 15 from other parties to Republican. In the adjacent ward, the 58th, the count is 209.
City Republican leaders believe it to be a Trump phenomenon. Joe DeFelice, the chairman of the Republican City Committee, has said people he’s never seen involved in the political process before are getting involved because of Trump.
The Democratic side is seeing plenty of activity, too. Philadelphia is a deeply blue city, so turnover to the left shouldn’t be quite as unexpected but it’s outpacing the party-switching on the Republican side. As of noon, according to Schmidt’s office, 3,490 voters had switched from a third party to Democrat, and 1,161 from Republican to Democrat.
Hillary Clinton has plenty of support from local and state Democratic leaders, but these changing voters could easily be Philadelphians feeling the Bern. Take a look at where Philadelphians have been siding with the Democratic Party:
The areas of Center City east of Broad, Fishtown and Northern Liberties are among the bluest on the map. Those neighborhoods are included in Wards 5 and 18, which have seen 495 voters switch to Democrat. The Manayunk/Roxborough Ward has seen 225 voters switch to Democrat (this ward has also seen about 150 voters switch to Republican). These are among the youngest and whitest neighborhoods of Philadelphia, groups that have been heavily favoring Sanders across the country.
Schmidt said these types of party changes are rare in most election cycles. Last year or the year before, for the mayor’s race and the governor’s race, not as many people switched sides. But for a presidential election it’s not that uncommon. Look back no further than 2008, when Barack Obama was energizing the country. Pennsylvania saw 106,000 people switch from Republican or from some other party to Democrat and another 66,000 newcomers register as Democrats just in March of that year.
It looks like Trump is making a splash in Philly and the rest of Pennsylvania but not anywhere near the extent Obama did in 2008.