If you’re under age 45, you haven’t voted in a Pennsylvania election that wound up in a Republican presidential candidate’s win column in November. The last time that happened was in 1988, when George H. W. Bush won in a landslide against Massachusetts Democrat Michael Dukakis.
Nevertheless, once again the Keystone State holds, well, a keystone position in the race for the house at … wait for it… 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Political analysts say PA is one of about 10 swing states that will decide the election in November. Donald Trump’s populist message resonates with blue-collar workers disillusioned by the decimation of the state’s manufacturing sector. Hillary Clinton claims the union vote in the state’s two largest cities, and is wooing suburban voters to shore up those totals.
A swing state once again (though most of the polls beg to differ), Pennsylvania is getting serious attention from both presidential campaigns. That means a deluge of Presidential TV ads, in addition to the plethora of Senate, congressional and state commercials that will saturate the airwaves while you’re just trying to watch “Modern Family.” It means both candidates will visit the state and subsequently snarl traffic.
And it means surrogates, pollsters and volunteers will be calling your phone and knocking on your door and begging you to register to vote from now until then because here in newly-swingy Pennsylvania, your presidential campaign vote actually does really, really matter.
And that means a lot of info, much of it (to be charitable) misleading. In fact, it can be hard to cut through the bullshit. From now until Nov. 8, you can expect to be force-fed spin from both sides. So what’s real and what isn’t?
Here are eight essential tips to survive the next two months in Pennsylvania, a swing state once again:
1. Register to vote, like, today.
You’ve gotten the pitch: Someone shoves a clipboard in your face, saying “are you registered to vote?” as you’re embarrassingly walk-running to catch the El. And the best answer you can give is “Yes, I am!”
Registering to vote in Pennsylvania used to be kind of a pain in the ass. In Philadelphia, you could visit the City Commissioners in person or mail in an application. You could register when your drivers license was up. Those are still options. But now, online voter registration in Pennsylvania is a thing. So you’re out of excuses.
While Democrats enjoy an 8-to-1 voter registration advantage in Philadelphia, it’s different statewide and rapidly changing. Though Democrats still have significantly more registered voters in the state, Republican registration outpaced Democrat registration by a net 83,000 voters. That means Democrats now lead in voter registration by 916,000 voters. (The last time that number was less than one million in a presidential year was 2004.)
To make this whole voter registration thing easier for you, you can use the below link to add the voter registration deadline to your calendar. Now you really don’t have an excuse.
You can register to vote through the Pennsylvania Department of State's online application. Before you begin, be sure to have your Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card handy. If you don’t have one, there are other options. Once you submit your online application, it will be forwarded to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing.
Where: www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us or http://www.philadelphiavotes.com/
When: October 11, 2016 at 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
How much: Free!
2. Brace yourself for TV ads.
TV ads still reign supreme in presidential elections, and as you may have heard, Hillary Clinton is paying significantly more for ad buys than Trump, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania. Over late July and August in PA, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, Clinton has spent three times what Trump has on ads.
The real estate mogul has put out two ads in Pennsylvania, including his latest, announced Monday:
Meanwhile, Clinton’s put out a number of (mostly attack) ads in the Keystone State, including her campaign’s buzz-generating spot depicting kids watching Trump on television:
3. Use fact-checking sites to cut through the partisanship.
We’re big fans of PolitiFact. It probably has something to do with the fact that were PolitiFact‘s partners in Pennsylvania. But it’s also because when it comes to ads inundating swing states, it’s important every paid piece of media is scrutinized by a fact checker.
Trump says in his ads he’s going to Make America Great Again. Clinton says she’s the only reasonable choice for the White House. But the two are also using their platforms to spew information they’re branding as facts on a daily basis — facts that seem to be more often than not… not entirely… factual. For instance, PolitiFact found that Trump’s first general election ad, which was about immigration, included statements that were rated completely false by the fact checkers.
Here’s what Clinton’s overall PolitiFact scorecard looks like:
And Trump’s overall PolitiFact scorecard:
We recommend perusing through PolitiFact on a pretty regular basis so you’re aware of what the ads you’re watching actually mean. However, we know the more you read partisan news, the less likely you are to pay attention to fact checks anyway.
4. Be aware of your online political leaning.
Speaking of partisan news sources…
One of the places Americans get their news most frequently is Facebook. Problem is, Facebook is a business which has an algorithm that wants people to click — so it caters to what it knows they want to read. That means Facebook knows your political leaning, and your newsfeed will look completely different based on what Facebook thinks it knows about you.
There’s not much you can do to change that. But since your vote could swing an election, it’s important to be aware of what you’re seeing and know that your Facebook feed is more than likely partisan.
So how do you find out what Facebook thinks of you? The New York Times explains you can go to facebook.com/ads/preferences, click “Lifestyle and Culture” under the Interests section and look for the U.S. politics box. There, it will say what category Facebook believes you to be in and, therefore, how it tailors your news.
5. Stay grounded with real election predictions.
You’re likely going to feel like the presidential candidates are reaching through your TV and into your soul by Nov. 8 because you will probably be genuinely sick of living in a new swing state. But! Despite the ads and the 24/7 news coverage of this presidential election, there are ways to stay grounded with what the polls are saying no matter how close or far apart anyone claims the race to be.
Even though they kinda botched the Republican primary, FiveThirtyEight still offers one of the most comprehensive election projection models anywhere. It continuously updates its 2016 election forecast by state. At this point? It says Clinton has a 78.8 percent chance of winning the nationwide election and a 77.5 percent chance of winning Pennsylvania.
6. Keep up with candidate appearances.
Pay attention to when candidates are coming to town! So far, the Donald has stayed away from the city and has focused his efforts in more rural areas, but appearances by both Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine have the potential to snarl traffic in the areas where they’re visiting. And it’s safe to say both will likely be back to Philadelphia before Nov. 8.
7. Just keep the remote handy…
Until Election Day, you’re going to want to keep the remote close. Hate political commercials? Just change the channel. Or turn on Netflix. Or leave your house and run away screaming.
8. … and never read the comments.