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Breaking Pennsylvania's Electoral Habits

Written by Rich Copeland - Producer, WITF's Smart Talk | Oct 18, 2017 8:00 PM
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On the Thursday October 19th, 2017 edition of WITF's Smart Talk:

History will look upon last year's presidential election as one of the most unusual and volatile the nation has ever seen.  Republican Donald Trump won the presidency by earning the most electoral votes while Democrat Hillary Clinton received 2.9 million more votes at the ballot box, but didn't win the states she needed to to become president.

Trump was a surprise winner in Pennsylvania -- a state that had voted for Democrats in presidential contests for six straight elections.  George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to win the state in 1988.

Incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Toomey was also thought to be vulnerable last year but won re-election.

Almost a year later, the question still arises as to how Trump won Pennsylvania, even though there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.  Maybe the bigger question is did last year's election signal a political change in Pennsylvania?

Berwood Yost is the director of the Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin & Marshall College and the co-author of The 2016 Pennsylvania Presidential and U.S. Senate Elections:  Breaking Pennsylvania's Electoral Habits.  The article appears in the most recent issue of Commonwealth - A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy and it uses survey data from before and after the election to evaluate the outcomes and correlate them to voter trends in geographic, socio-economic and educational terms.

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Berwood Yost - director, Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin & Marshall College

The report determined "those with a high school degree or less and those who attended some college were more likely to vote for Trump than were college graduates" and that Clinton lost 82,000 votes that Barack Obama had earned in rural districts in previous elections. 

Ultimately, the report concluded "counties with more working-class voters turned out in greater numbers and gave less support to Democratic candidates than in previous elections, while areas that should have been supportive of Democrats had lower turnout and offered little change in their support for Democratic candidates." 

Yost joins Smart Talk to parse out the findings of the study and help us understand how and why the election went the way it did and what we can take away as learning experiences for elections in the future.


- I  don't know whether PA has changed, but last November, when I was at my polling place, voting at the same location for 18 years, I  sensed an atmosphere and attitude I had never seen before. In the past, I had noticed a fairly long line of voters waiting to cast their  ballots and a fair amount of chit-chat. Not this time: the line was out the door and the voters were of one mind: almost-robotic, steely-eyed, no small talk of any kind. It appeared that they were on a mission and nothing was going to get in the way of that mission; it was surreal. I suggest that, in this case, anyway, that their vote was meant to prevent, rather than support, a candidate. Subsequent events seem to bear that out. Thanks.      - John

- When are we going to change the Electoral College - recently heard the statistic that soon 70% of population will be represented by 30% of the Senators and 30% of population will be represented by 70% of Senators.  Fair?                                                                                                                    - Blaine, Delta

How much did Trump's boastful campaign promises play into the hopes and aspirations of working class people who felt left behind, even though the reality of achieving those promises was very low.                                        - Tom, Carlisle

- Most of Trump voters were racially motivated. All the terms "wanted change", "disenfranchised", etc. code words for not wanting a black president.

Those people are not going to admit in any pole that they are racially motivated Trump supporters.

If none of the votes in York county were counted, Hillary would have won.     - Bill

- 1) This election was first time I didn't hear/see any info about getting transportation to polls if you can't drive. Were older voters more likely to vote for Ms. Clinton?

2) Over & over (on WITF/NPR - I don't have TV) t was stated that my vote didn't matter.

3) Did you ask if abortion was a factor with the Republican voters? I feel this issue was very under rated?

4) Why is the demographic of victims of "domestic" & non-domestic violence never mentioned?   - anon

- Have studies been made about voters who voted for Trump having regrets about voting for him and seeing the results of his presidency so far?    - Marie, Lancaster

- Can we please address the question of sexism? (Unless I missed it in the first few minutes of the program.)  Trump said it was "disgusting" that Hillary had gone to the bathroom during a debate.  How can people vote for such a sexist unless they're OK with that?                                                     - Jean, Middletown

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