With five states set to vote Tuesday in the presidential primaries, the biggest prize for both parties is Pennsylvania, where 71 Republican and 210 Democratic delegates will be awarded.
More importantly, however, may be the role that Pennsylvania plays in the general election for president, especially if both frontrunners hold on to secure their respective party’s nominations in July.
A state which leans Democratic in presidential elections is starting to make a significant voter registration shift in 2016, as 61,500 former Democrats in Pennsylvania have officially switched allegiance to the Republican Party.
A nationwide trend that started in 1980 with Ronald Reagan’s candidacy is starting to regain momentum. White, working-class voters have felt increasingly alienated by the Democratic national platform since Bill Clinton left the White House, and are starting to vote Republican again in presidential elections.
G. Terry Madonna, a professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, attributes the recent surge in Pennsylvania Republican Party registration to the populist policy proposals of Donald Trump.
“The party-switching has been going on in an evolutionary way for two decades,” said Madonna. “This just propelled it faster . . . Many of them are Reagan Democrats — white, working-class, blue collar”.
“They feel frustrated, they feel left behind”, he continued. “They feel Trump is sticking it to the man . . . A lot of western Pennsylvania . . . is old steel-towns . . . I imagine the anti-trade deals and the anti-China rhetoric resonates pretty well there.“
Overall, the GOP has added 145,000 new registrants in The Keystone State, a net gain of approximately 56,000 over Democrats, since November 2015.
However, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party still holds a 900,000 person advantage, which could make a difference in the general election.
Based on the most recent polls, Trump and Clinton hold solid double-digit leads in the state over their rivals, which highlights the stark differences between many Democratic and Republican voters in 2016.
“Both parties have lost track of how to reach out to middle-class voters”, said Michael Korns, chairman of the Westmoreland Co. Republican Party. “What we’ve been getting for a long time [in Westmoreland Co.] is basically ignored.”
More feelings of frustration may be on the way for Republican voters in Pennsylvania, however, if the winner of their primary doesn’t end up with the majority of the state’s delegates.
According to GOP state party rules, only 17 of Pennsylvania’s 71 delegates are obligated to support the popular-vote winner at the national convention in July.
The remaining 54 are free to vote for the candidate of their personal choice.
[Duluth News Tribune] [U.S. News & World Report] [Photo courtesy Keith Srakocic/AP]