Election 2017

How Donald Trump won Pennsylvania, then the White House

He cleaned up in counties Romney won in 2012, and the Philly ‘burbs weren’t a thing.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters at New York Hilton Midtown on election night.  Vice President Elect Mike Pence is at left.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters at New York Hilton Midtown on election night. Vice President Elect Mike Pence is at left.


Donald Trump flipped the nation’s electoral map on its head. And it seems he did the same thing in Pennsylvania.

For the first time since 1988, Pennsylvania has elected a Republican presidential candidate despite a Democratic voter registration advantage of nearly a million people. With more than 99 percent of returns in, Trump has carried the state by about a percentage point and more than 60,000 votes.

Why? There are a few reasons — the main one being that the places in Pennsylvania that have historically mattered just didn’t this year. The Philadelphia suburbs were not the difference-maker. Instead, it was Trump’s utter clean-up in southwest Pennsylvania and his ability to flip several counties that went blue in 2012.

Here’s a look at why Trump won Pa. and, by extension, the White House:

1. Trump flipped several PA counties

The 2012 Pennsylvania electoral map

The 2012 Pennsylvania electoral map

Several Pennsylvania counties that went blue in 2012 for Obama flipped to red this year. For example, Trump hugely flipped Luzerne County in northeastern Pa., which elected Obama by 12,000 votes and five points in 2012. This year, Trump won the county by a stunning 20 points and 25,000 votes.

Note: One of Trump’s biggest PA supporters was Republican Congressman Lou Barletta, who — as Hazleton’s mayor — drew national attention for his immigration policies.

In addition, Obama won Erie County by a very comfortable 57 percent to 41 percent margin. This year, that flipped; Trump won the county 49 percent to 47 percent, and led Clinton by about 3,000 votes. Trump also made serious gains in smaller counties, like Monroe, which elected Obama by a 13-point margin and 10,000 votes in 2012. This year, Clinton narrowly won the county by one point and about 800 votes.

Northampton County in the Lehigh Valley area in 2012 favored Obama by four points and 6,000 votes. This year, it preferred Trump by five points and just over 6,000 votes.

2. Clinton was crushed in Southwest PA

Obama didn’t win the counties outside Pittsburgh in 2012. But Clinton was crushed there. Look at Greene County, for example, which went 58 percent to 40 percent in favor of Romney in 2012. This year? It went 69 percent to 27 percent in favor of Trump.

Similarly, Fayette County elected Romney by eight points in 2012, but Trump cleaned up there and took the county by 30 points. He also majorly increased margins in Washington and Somerset counties.

3. The Philly ‘burbs weren’t the difference maker

Prognosticators always say the key to Pennsylvania is in the Philly suburbs. They weren’t.

Combined together, the four suburban counties of Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks voted more Democratic than they did in 2012 and sent almost as many voters to the polls (about 1.2 million on Tuesday and in 2012). Montgomery and Delaware County were particularly blue. Trump got a smaller percentage of the vote there than Romney, McCain or Bush.

4. Scranton didn’t turn out for Clinton

Clinton won Lackawanna County, where Scranton is located, but only carried the county by 3,000 votes and four points. That’s a significant departure from what happened in the same county in 2012, when Obama won by 24,000 votes and carried the county 63 percent to Romney’s 36 percent.

That’s also significant because Clinton has roots in Lackawanna County. Scranton is her father’s hometown and, according to the Washington Post, “the city she says allowed her grandfather, a lace mill worker, to begin the family’s ascent into a comfortable middle-class life.” On top of that, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, who stumped hard in PA for Clinton, lived in Scranton through grade school.

5. A lack of Philadelphia Dems

Not enough of Philadelphia’s many, many Democrats voted. With just under 99 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton had earned 560,000 Philadelphia votes, meaning the total number of votes cast for Hillary Clinton should be around 570,000. This is more than 400,000 more than Trump, who received about 105,000 votes in Philly. The problem is the most important thing for Philadelphia to do to get a Democrat elected President is bring bodies to the polls. That didn’t happen.

In 2012, Barack Obama got 588,000 votes in Philadelphia. Before that in 2008, he got 594,000 votes. While 18,000 more wouldn’t have quite been enough to swing Pennsylvania to Clinton it certainly would’ve helped.  

Turnout for the presidential vote in Philly is going to end up around 63 percent, same as it’s consistently been in the last three presidential elections. And it’s not as though the Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton switched to Trump. Her percentage of victory in Philadelphia of 82 percent is just 1 percent behind Obama’s from 2008. Trump’s 105,000 votes also signaled a poor showing for Republicans in the city. While he got more votes than Romney did in 2012, the 105,000 is fewer than John McCain got in 2008 or George W. Bush got in 2004.

6. Third parties and write-ins

The danger with assessing third-party and write-in votes is that we don’t know which way those voters would have swayed had they chosen either the Republican or the Democrat. But we can see there was a major uptick in third-party and write-in voting in Philadelphia.

Nearly 200,000 people statewide voted for a third-party candidate, compared to about 70,000 that were cast in 2012. Philadelphia was a microcosm of the major increase in third-party voting this year as compared to 2012. This year, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein won a collective 12,000 votes in Philadelphia, three times more than the third-party candidates did in 2012. There was also more than 1,800 write-in votes for president in Philadelphia, which is almost five times more than the less than 500 write-in votes for president were cast in 2012.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2017 stories.

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