Pennsylvania’s Election Results are Better Explained at the Congressional Level

I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I have a bit of an obsession with Pennsylvania. One of the biggest push backs in that now-no-longer-crazy quest was that Republicans were improving in areas with decreasing population, while Democrats had been gaining where the state was growing, the Philadelphia Collar. In the aftermath of Trump’s win in the Keystone, we have looked at the state on a regional and municipal level. But what about at the Congressional? The elections website DailyKosElections has been splitting and compiling the Presidential vote by Congressional District, undoubtedly because they are nerds. Well, we at the Decision Desk HQ wanted to nerd out too, and decided to tackle one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation because I can never stop talking about the state. Along our journey, we faced nefarious characters, shady go-betweens, PDFs pulled from the very bowels of Hades, and copious amounts of coffee. It paid off: the data compiled shows how Trump pulled off a win, arguably better than the county maps we are more familiar with.


Clinton carried Pittsburgh and Philadelphia’s districts (PA-14, PA-01, PA-02, and PA-13) and two of the Collar County districts that have Republican Congressmen (PA-06 and PA-07), reflecting her strength in the urban and inner suburban areas of the nation. Of these, she improved on President Obama’s 2012 share in the districts that constitute the bulk of Chester and Delaware counties. These districts were carved out by the Republican state legislature to insulate moderate incumbents. They reflected Clinton’s strengths among white voters with college degrees. Further down the ballot, Clinton’s wins didn’t produce noticeable coattails: Pat Toomey won the 6th and 7th districts and both sent Republicans back to the House.


The secret to Trump’s overall win is glaringly clear: every single district anchored in Appalachia voted more for him than for Romney, most notably the 17th Congressional District, currently held by Democrat Matt Cartwright, who primaried Blue Dog Congressman Tim Holden after a Congressional redraw in 2012. The President-Elect carried two-thirds of the state’s Congressional Districts, sweeping everything in Appalachia outside of Pittsburgh proper (PA-14), and winning the Dutch Country, Lehigh Valley and exurban districts in the southeast. Trump improved on-balance in Bucks County and in northeastern Philadelphia, allowing him to snag the 8th district outright and improve in the 13th. Further down the ballot, Trump’s win in the 17th District didn’t translate into a flip, as Congressman Cartwright won re-election by about seven points.

While Donald Trump certainly benefited from lower turnout and a mostly-absent Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin, increased turnout helped him tremendously in Pennsylvania. Every region of Appalachia cranked out more votes, despite its population loss, with the northeast and Wyoming Valley leading the pack. Turnout dropped only in the 2nd Congressional District, centered in West Philadelphia and the innermost suburbs of Montgomery County. Even if turnout had matched 2012 there, it wouldn’t have reversed the result.


The various twists and turns of the Pennsylvania gerrymander clearly highlight how Trump won. The Republican state legislature snaked out favorable districts through increasingly Democratic Chester and Delaware, reflecting the personalities of their more moderate Congressional candidates. It’s no surprise that Trump lost either of these, nor that he lost ground in them. His improvements in white non-college precincts bordering the Delaware River (here in the 1st and 8th district) are clear in the Congressional swing map. Lastly, his enormous gains in the Wyoming Valley shine clearly in the swing and turnout maps.