The Pennsylvania warning sign for Dems many of us missed

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania Democrats managed to elect stroke victim John Fetterman and carried a couple of other tight races on November 8. But there was more to the story buried in the numbers. The Philadelphia Inquirer has been crunching the data, comparing the voter turnout numbers from this month with previous midterm elections and presidential year races. The statistics for the City of Brotherly Love, long a strong liberal bastion, are trending in the wrong direction for the party of the Donkey. Overall voter turnout in Philadelphia dropped more than in any other county in the state. And it’s not the first time that’s happened.

The midterm elections clean sweep by Pennsylvania Democrats obscured a big warning sign for the party: Philadelphia keeps falling behind.

Turnout in midterm elections always drops from presidential races. But Philly’s overall turnout dropped the most of any county in the state. It’s the third consecutive election in which Philly’s share of the state’s vote declined.

An Inquirer analysis of the almost-final 2022 results and those from past elections raises questions about the city’s future role in statewide races and both parties’ ability to connect with Black and Latino neighborhoods, where a lot of voters stayed home.

While you would expect voter turnout to sag in the midterms when compared to a presidential year, the decline in Philadelphia from 2020 to 2022 was 33%. That’s well below the normal decline. By comparison, Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, has 133,000 fewer registered voters than Philadelphia, but they turned out 67,000 more people than Philadelphia on November 8th.

In terms of the ratio of voters across the entire state, Philadelphia’s share of the state’s total Democratic vote fell by 5% from 2016 to 2022. One factor was obviously the fact that more people were simply failing to show up and vote. But at the same time, a smaller share of those who did show up, regardless of party registration, were actually casting their votes for Democrats. As far as racial demographics go, the largest decline in voter participation in the city was seen among Hispanic voters, formerly one of the Democrats’ strongest blocks. That also follows a recent trend being observed nationally, and particularly in Florida and Texas.

So why would Philadelphia’s Democrats be so lackluster in their participation? Well, that city has been run almost exclusively by Democrats for quite a while now. But like so many other large cities, Philly has seen a crime wave over the past couple of years that has made some neighborhoods basically unlivable. And their soft-on-crime DA was just impeached.

If you don’t think people have noticed and grown worried over the situation, consider one other statistic. Gun permit applications in Philadelphia registered a 539% increase from 2020 to 2021. Are those the actions of a group of people who feel safe and are happy with the way things are going? I would argue that they clearly are not.

The vast, mostly rural interior of Pennsylvania trends to the conservative side, hence the nickname “Pennsyltucky.” The only way that Democrats can manage to win elections in the state is by turning out their dense voter bases in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The latter city is still delivering voters to the polls and somehow seems less affected by recent crime trends. But Philadelphia appears to be slowly deflating for the Democrats. And that fact alone may be enough to spell an end to their ability to field competitive candidates in statewide races.

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