Have events since Election Day affected voter registration in Pennsylvania?
The impeachment trial of former President Trump has caused some to speculate that the Republican Party itself will be harmed by the coverage. The New York Times reported on February 10th that Republicans were losing significant support across the country, as evidenced by changes in voter registration in some states. Though the story did not include statistics for Pennsylvania, it did include an interview with a Mechanicsburg man who was registered as a Republican but was “preparing to register as an independent.” The implication of the story is that the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has lost voters since Election Day.
Among those who recently left the party are Juan Nunez, 56, an Army veteran in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He said he had long felt that the difference between the United States and many other countries was that campaign-season fighting ended on Election Day, when all sides would peacefully accept the result. The Jan. 6 riot changed that, he said.
So far in 2021 there were about 24,000 party-switchers and the largest portion, about 38 percent, were Republicans changing their registration to “other.” When all the new applications and party switching is accounted for, it looks like Republicans have lost about 1,100 voters and Democrats have gained about 15,000, with the balance registering in other parties. But these changes are minor compared to the churn that appears in these data from year-to-year.
Overall, state voter registration statistics show there were 85,000 fewer registered Republicans on February 8th than there were on Election Day in November. But there are also fewer registered Democratic (about 150,000 fewer) and independent (about 40,000 fewer) voters.[i] This pattern is not unusual. Voter registration patterns over the past two decades show that presidential elections produce increases in voter registration leading up to the election, and subsequent declines in the years that follow. The figure below demonstrates this pattern using a twenty year overview of voter registration statistics in the state.
The most profound change in voter registration over the past two decades was a massive increase in Democratic registration, and an accompanying decline in Republican registration, that was part of a large increase in voter registration leading up to the 2008 election. This change was consequential and ushered in a roughly ten year period of Democratic success in statewide elections. Between 2008 and 2018, Democrats won two of three Presidential races, two of three gubernatorial races, two of four senate races, two of three Attorney General races, and were six for six in the Auditor General and Treasurer races. That adds up to 14 wins in 19 races (74%).
The large registration advantage held by Democrats has slowly eroded since 2008 and has returned them to an advantage that is similar in size to the one they held at the turn of this century. This could be consequential: despite having a Democratic voter registration advantage from 1960 to 2000, the state had a Republican bias in electoral contests--Democrats won only 46% of statewide elections in the state during this time period.[ii] In fact, the Republican’s electoral success in this era raised questions about whether the state’s voter registration statistics reflected the actual partisan disposition of the state’s voters.[iii]
It is too soon to tell if the impeachment trial of President Trump will lead to an advantage for Democrats in this state, but it is difficult to imagine that the trial will produce a change in registration that is anywhere near as consequential for state elections as the one produced by the Great Recession.
References and Resources
Annual reports produced by the The Pennsylvania Department of State (DoS) explain list maintenance activities. List maintenance activities include the removal of deceased voters and voters who confirm they moved outside of the county in which they were registered.
[ii] Elections in Pennsylvania: A Century of Partisan Conflict in the Keystone State By Jack M. Treadway
The most comprehensive state election study ever undertaken, Elections in Pennsylvania provides data and analysis for more than 13,000 general elections and more than 6,000 primary elections held in the state between 1900 and 1998, with a postscript examining in less detail the elections of 2000 and 2002.
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