Want to see what happens when one side has a GOTV organization and the other just runs ads on television? It might not show up in opinion polling, but when it comes to new voter registrations, Republicans have taken a big lead in Pennsylvania, Politico reports today. That effort has shaved off nearly 175,000 off of the Democrats’ voter-registration advantage since 2016 — when they lost the Keystone State anyway:
The GOP has added almost 198,000 registered voters to the books compared to this time four years ago, whereas Democrats have gained an extra 29,000. Though Democrats still outnumber Republicans by about 750,000 voters in the state, the GOP has seized on their uptick in party members as a sign that Trump is on track to win this critical Rust Belt swing state a second time.
“It’s one of the reasons why I am very bullish on Donald Trump’s prospects in Pennsylvania. I think he will win again, and I think he will win by more votes than he did in 2016,” said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns in the state. “Trump is doing what Ronald Reagan did 40 years ago, which is moving a lot of traditional Democrats into the Republican column.”
The GOP has also seen a larger boost in registrations than Democrats in three critical areas across Pennsylvania: Erie, Luzerne and Northampton counties, all of which helped Trump flip the state by backing him after supporting former President Barack Obama in 2012.
Hillary Clinton got four years of grief for not showing up in Wisconsin. Will Democrats in general get the same treatment for their poor performance in Pennsylvania on voter registrations? It’s not as though the Keystone State had reached saturation level for Democrats; as Politico’s Holly Otterbein points out, they only made up 49% of the state’s electorate, running eleven points ahead of the GOP in 2016. That’s down to eight points now, 47/39, in a state that routinely elects Republican legislative majorities and occasionally GOP statewide officers as well.
The growth in battleground counties shows that this is no accident. One objective measure of GOTV effectiveness is voter registrations, particularly in areas up for grabs. That’s also a measure of Donald Trump’s personal popularity in those areas, which should add another level of concern over GOTV effectiveness and voter enthusiasm:
“It’s Trump, Trump, Trump,” said Gloria Lee Snover, chair of the Northampton County Republican Party. When she has signed up voters, she added, “They’re like, ‘Oh, I want to be in the Trump party.’ It’s kind of funny. … I’m like, ‘You mean the Republican Party?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
Democrats are choosing to write this off as nothing more than realignment of already-committed GOP voters:
“It probably means less than meets the eye,” said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic consultant in Pennsylvania. “There’s reason to believe the shift is mostly ‘Democrats’ who haven’t been voting for Democrats for a long time, choosing to re-register as Republican.”
That’s some monster spin right there. Even if that were the case, it’s still a pretty good indication that PA voters aren’t coming back to the Democrats, not even after four years of demonizing Trump. How is that “less than meets the eye”? If all this amounts to is some lagging party-switching indicators, it still shows voters switching parties at a 4:1 clip favoring the GOP.
Consider that when reading today’s warning from the New York Times to Democrats. It’s headlined “How Trump Could Win Pennsylvania Again,” although most of Michael Sokolove’s reporting leans toward why he and Democrats think Trump won’t win the state. But note why Sololove thinks Joe Biden can win it back:
One of the hopes among rural Democrats is that Mr. Trump’s personal conduct, tone and ceaseless lying will be enough to turn some conservative voters against him.
Mr. Ainey said he’s hearing from people who voted for Mr. Trump who tell him they’ve had enough. “Their feelings toward Biden is that he’s not Trump,” he said. “He’s got some class. They’re not going to shake their heads every time he says something.”
He believes he can limit the damage this time around, that he can be a good team player and help get Mr. Biden close to 35 percent of the vote in Susquehanna.
“I really don’t think it’s going to be as bad this time,” he said. “People do not usually want to go backward, but in this case, I think some of them want to turn the clock back four or five years.”
Well, that’s certainly not the message coming from the voter registration numbers. And given the success of the GOP’s GOTV in that metric, and the complete lack of GOTV from Team Biden and the DNC, those numbers speak a lot more loudly than a couple of anecdotes and conjecture about Trump fatigue that’s not showing up in the numbers — at least so far.