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Thursday, October 23, 2003


Posted by DavidNYC

On to the Keystone State.

Electoral Votes: 21 (23 in 2000)

2000 Results:

Gore: 50.60%
Bush: 46.43%
Nader: 2.10%
Buchanan: 0.33%

Pennsylvania, with its 23 electoral votes, was the third-largest state to go blue in 2000 - only California (54) and New York (33) gave us more. Thanks to post-census redistricting, PA had a couple of Congressional seats shaved from its delegation, but its importance to the Democratic nominee is still immense. Nearly everyone agrees that if the Dem candidate cannot win PA, then the odds of him winning the Presidency are virtually nil. It's not just because those 21 EVs would be almost impossible to make up elsewhere, but rather because it would signal that we're out of the running in multiple swing-states. My understanding is that this scenario would come about only if there were a broad surge of pro-Bush sentiment, tipping a wide swath of yellow and green states into red. I don't really plan to explore this potential disaster situation because a) it doesn't pertain to any specific swing state and b) it would rely on utterly unpredictable, large-scale events, such as a turn-around in the economy or rapid progress in Iraq.

So what factors should we look at?

A lot of people have commented about the presence of Ed Rendell, PA's new Democratic governor and former DNC chairman. The conventional wisdom about governors says something like, "A governor can add 1-2% to his party's vote total." I'm a little skeptical of this because I'm not sure what this really means - or rather, how to analyze the validity of this proposition. Since every state has a governor (of course), how can you know what the real baseline is and how much on top of that the governor has added? Comparing polls to actual election-day results seems unsatisfactory to me because not only are polls often incorrect, but there's no reason to believe polls can filter out this alleged "governor effect", either. (You can't exactly ask, "Would you vote Democrat even if Ed Rendell wasn't governor?") This problem aside, Rendell's good connections and long experience may indeed help on the ground here. How much is, of course, impossible to say.

Then there's the Senate race: "Moderate" Republican Arlen Specter, who is running for re-election, is also facing a primary challenge from the right. People often suggest that a contested Senate (or gubernatorial) race can drive more people to the polls. Again I think it's hard to filter out the effects of state-wide races because so many other factors can affect voter turnout. Furthermore, a bitterly contested race may bring out partisans on both sides.

I will say this: If Specter starts faring poorly in the polls, then that is doubtless a good sign, sort of a reverse canary-in-the-coalmine. This may seem ultra-obvious, but I mention it because I think Specter's already showing some weakness. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Specter is leading "someone else" (the pollster's phrase, not mine) by a mere 5% - 46% to 41%. That's pretty bleak, considering that 74% of respondents say they don't know enough to for an opinion of Specter's likely opponent, Rep. Joseph Hoeffel. And Specter's primary battle is only likely to drive up his negatives. (I don't think anyone ever emerges from a primary fight looking cleaner than when they went in.)

A quick note here on Bush's popularity: Like almost everywhere else, it's been plummeting - and plummeting sharply of late. Bush's immediate post-war approve/disapprove numbers (again from Quinnipiac) were 67/28 back in April. By August, they stood at 60/35, but in the last two months alone, Bush's approval sunk by a whopping 9 points to 51%, while his negatives rose by the same amount. In baseball, they talk of the "Mendoza line" when a player's batting average sinks below the pitiful figure of .200. If 50% approval ratings are the Mendoza line of the political world, then Bush is hovering awfully close to extreme mediocrity in PA.

Finally - and I think most importantly - I'd like to take a look at employment figures, which I did not examine with regard to New Hampshire. I confess this is where my analysis is weakest because my background in quantitative social science is, to be charitable, limited. But I'll forge ahead with a few thoughts in the hope that wiser souls can offer some more guidance in the comments section. (Also, a tip o' the tam o' shanter to MBW at Wampum who first inspired me to look at this topic.)

The seasonally-adjusted employment rate in PA stood at 4.2% in January, 2001 when Bush took office. In August of this year (the last month for which figures are available), the unemployment rate was a full point higher - 5.2%. If we believe the seemingly sensible proposition that this can only be bad news for the incumbent, then naturally this is "good news" for us (though obviously terrible news for PA residents and the country as a whole). I don't think this tells the whole story, though. Take a look at the maps below:

Map of Pennsylvania Unemployment and Voting

The top two maps are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is linked to above. They show unemployment by county in Jan. '01 & Aug. '03. As you can see, unemployment has actually decreased in most PA counties since the start of the Bush administration. (It is possible that the unemployment rate has been "artificially" lowered by people who have ceased looking for work, but I am unable to assess that.)

But take a look at the third map (which is courtesy of Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, a fantastic resource). If you do a quick visual comparison, you can see that the Gore counties are the ones which have been hardest-hit. (Just be aware that Dave uses red for the Dems and blue for the GOP.) I've done a more precise number-crunching, and I can tell you that 10 of 18 Gore counties have suffered an increase in unemployment, while only 12 of 49 Bush counties have. Furthermore, nearly all the sharpest declines (those over 1%) have been in the Gore counties, particularly in the Philadelphia region in southeastern PA.

While I can't imagine that voters in the Republican counties are crediting Bush with a booming economy, it does seem safe to say that anti-incumbent hostility can only have increased in the Democratic counties due to the economic situation. Turnout in these areas (primarily Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) will be crucial, and I think that the sour economy will propel more disaffected voters to the polls on election day. Obviously, a quick turnaround in the economy can negate this analysis, but time is running out for Bush on this count. As you may recall, the economy had already started to recover from the '90-'91 recession when Bush, Sr. was running for re-election in 1992, but the effects of the recovery failed to reach many voters by November of that year.

Ok, so there is one last thing: Fred in the comments section observes that PA has the second-highest proportion of elderly citizens of any state (only Florida has more). (Census Bureau PDF, page 17.) If you saw the recent NYT article, you know that Bush's popularity is declining among older voters. And if you've ever observed politics, you probably also know that the senior citizen demographic tends to vote in very high proportions.

So, all in all, I think we have a pretty decent shot at keeping PA. It's been said that the Pennsylvania is "Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between," and I think the election will come down to voter turnout in those two urban poles at either end of the state. As I noted, I think some factors (like Specter's race & Rendell) are just too fuzzy to gauge, but the anger generated by joblessness is very real - and present. And I think this has the potential to be a major motivating force in the Democratic strongholds of PA and across the country.

But the bottom line is, this is a must-win for us. If you hear Jeff Greenfield calling Pennsylvania for Bush on election night, grab the Jack Daniels, because it's going to be a long four years.

(Also, I'd like to thank everyone who has been contributing in the comments section. Your insights have proven very helpful, even if I haven't been able to cite everyone by name.)

Posted at 11:29 PM in Pennsylvania | Technorati


The Rendell factor is hard to predict. Right now there is a fierce fight in the state legislator over raising state income taxes. I was surprised to see one of the right-wing House members up this way voted for the tax hike. But both of my nutty as hell State Senators (well, only one is actually my rep and the other I fight with all the time over enviro issues) are trying to spin the hike as unnecessary. Even the local press, however, had a strong layer relating the tax hike and conditions under Bush. This is a descent indicator as I live in one of the most conservative areas of the commonwealth.

One of the reasons you have such a voting split between urban and rural areas in PA is because NOBODY between 25 and 40 lives in rural Pennsylvania. Trust me, I'm 31 and where the hell are they??? The over 60 crowd in rural PA are very old fashioned in a conservative way. But you never know. My township of 258 registered voters voted 15% for Nader.

Oh, someone on the previous thread mentioned pro life issues. There is a huge pro-life current in especially rural PA, but the suburban Philly Republicans I believe tend pro-choice. Rendell is pro choice or at least he campaigned that way. And he also campaigned on protecting homosexual rights. Anyone, please correct me on this if I am wrong because I am working off of memory. I think this bolstered Rendell within the Democratic voting areas (and the more moderate suburban Rs).

Posted by: seamus at October 24, 2003 12:25 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

oh, and keep up the good work David.

Posted by: seamus at October 24, 2003 12:26 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Thanks, Seamus. As for the tax issue (and tax issues can always be biggies), who will it hurt and who will it help? If it passes, will voters be angry and blame Rendell? If it fails, will crucial services need to be cut?

Posted by: DavidNYC at October 24, 2003 12:35 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

damn, I'm sorry. I should have included this above. A couple of the quotes from the State Senators I was speaking about are included in a post on my site. Note Senator White's quote relating the tax hike to Bush's tax cut. Isn't this what we've been arguing?? Anyway, I wanted to post about these quotes because they really highlight how Bush's policies are coming back to roost in good old rural Pennsylvania.

p.s. coincidentally, White was an oil company exec for 17 years.

Posted by: seamus at October 24, 2003 12:36 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


to answer your question, I meant to raise the same question myself. Rendell is trying to do two things at once - cut property taxes, and raise income taxes. He also is trying to legalize slot machines (I think he partially succeeded on this count but haven't been following). I haven't been following real close so hopefully someone who has can chime in. But I think that there is obviously a real potential for a backlash against Dems on the tax issues which are always controversial.

Posted by: seamus at October 24, 2003 12:43 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I find it interesting that in talking about Pennsylvania you don't even mention the steel tariffs that Bush has played with in an attempt to boost his popularity in the Appalachian area of the country, including Western Pennsylvania.

Posted by: Logan Ferree at October 24, 2003 01:13 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Logan - good point! I totally missed that issue (probably because I keep associating the steel tariffs with West Virginia, for whatever reason). I haven't looked into it yet - do you have any thoughts?

Posted by: DavidNYC at October 24, 2003 02:23 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


Some insights from a Pittsburgh resident:
Based on a cursory glance at the data, I'd say that most of the job gains you saw were extractive or forestry based. PA is largely run by timber, mining, oil & gas. These are the areas won by Bush--there's a "Bible Belt" in the middle of the state, shaped like a letter "T," that's all about Bush.

Specter is considered vulnerable from the right. Basically, Rove is gearing up to run a wingnut named Pat Toomey against Specter, because he isn't loyal enough. This could make the winner of that primary vulnerable, but I have no idea about Jim Hoeffel, the Democratic challenger. I hope the DNC and unions pour some support into this race, because Santorum, once the R. nominee is set, will be throwing his weight around.

I was at the steel workers' rally in support of tariffs. In addition to Don MacLean, I saw lots of Gephardt buttons. The union-run merchandise booths were selling buttons designed to look like the Wheel from Wheel of Fortune...they read "B_SH S_CKS. I'd like to buy a vowel."

From what I saw, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that Bush is going to get any votes from those guys. BTW, seeing 10,000 steelworkers wave their arms and mist up to "American Pie" was one of the more bizarre concert experiences of my life.

Posted by: praktike at October 24, 2003 04:37 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


GREAT work! Keep it up. Have you run across any right wing sites like yours? Might be interesting to see the reflections from the other side.

Posted by: Hiram at October 24, 2003 09:19 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

paktike, that sounds like fun!

On the census numbers. I can't believe that would be related to timber. Just looking at the counties I know real well (and thinking about the plant closedowns) it would be surprising as hell if any of those jobs were in timber. Actually, David are these numbers seasonally adjusted at all? Those Bush counties are big-time tourist/seasonal home places (tourism crushes timber and oil in PA). Unemployment is always lower in August than in January.

I could believe a bit of a surge in oil jobs. This will be temporary if it even lasts though next year as the oil industry has been going mad with oil and gas prices high. I'm still doubtful though.

Posted by: seamus at October 24, 2003 09:21 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Good analysis. A couple points:

1. Turnout- one assumption in 00 was that the Dems absolutely (with the help of Rendell) maximized turnout, especially in Philly. The fear is we have nowhere to go but down.

2. Spectre- he's in trouble. I think he'll win his primary (Bush is gonna have to back him or look like an ass in a state he has to win) and the far right, ticked at the primary loss, may have a depressed turnout. This is good news both because we may pick up a Senate seat we didn't expect to but also because I am a lot less worried about losing PA than I was.

Posted by: jgkojak at October 24, 2003 11:21 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

well, this was directly related to what we were talking about - the economic situation in rural PA. This is from this morning's Bradford Era:

"As a whole, the economy in Pennsylvania is sliding fast," Peterson said. "You have to face the facts -- we are in serious trouble.

"We need to analyze our system ... we all are to blame" for the economic struggle, Peterson added.

Dubbing himself "a rebel," Peterson, who co-chairs the Congressional Rural Caucus, said "the rural caucus is getting stronger" in the corridors of Congress, adding "we are fighting to be equal" with our urban counterparts.

At least part of the blame for rural Pennsylvania's woes, according to Peterson, can be traced to the national economy itself, which is slowly recovering from a lengthy downturn.

Peterson said he is "not at all comfortable with deficit spending," adding "during this downfall rural America has taken the brunt of the fallback. We have been getting hammered."

Peterson is as extreme as a Congressman gets. But even he is acknowledging the obvious.

Posted by: seamus at October 24, 2003 02:13 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I'm more worried about PA than any other "Big 10" states that went to Gore for a couple of reasons. (I'm talking about the Big 10 athletic conference: PA, MI, IL, IA, MN, WI which all went for Gore, and IN and OH for Bush. The right wing press always talks about how only the uber-liberal coasts go for the Democrats and conviently forget how the Heart of the Midwest are also in our column.)

Anyway, I'm worried that Rendell's popularity has taken a hit. The tax package that is being worked on (still not anywhere near final yet) will raise the state sales tax from 6 to 6.75%; raise the state income tax from 2.8% to 3.25% until July 2004 before dropping to 3.1%, and add new cell phone and long distance taxes. In exchange, school funding would get a boost and local property taxes will decrease. Here's where this may hurt Rendell: Ed was elected by having huge margins of support not only in the Democratic strongholds of Philly and Pittsburgh, but also in the Republican-leaning suburbs of Philly. These "Rendellicans" are the ones that are going to pay the most and benefit the least from this tax package. The increased school aid mostly goes to city and rural schools. The biggest property tax relief goes to city residents, while suburban residents will only see a modest decrease. Gore won Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery counties in 2000, but I don't know how well this tax package will go over in these counties, and if resisdents there blame someone it will be Rendell and by extension any Democrat.

By the way, I believe that Bush has visited PA during his pResidency more than any other state except for TX (visits to the Crawford "ranch" -- http://www.dalycitygreens.org/Rancho_Bogoso.html) and Maine (the family compound in Kennebunkport). Heaven forbid if the war on terrorism or the worst job-loss record since Herbert Hoover cut into GW's vacation time.

Posted by: Jeff in PA at October 25, 2003 09:27 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Thanks to you all and to David for some great insights into the prospects for PA. The shape of the Senate race there bears some watching. I always thought that Specter was pretty wired by now with the party bigs. Rove must be torn between the desire to run a strong incumbent and the desire to put another brainless hack like Santorum in his stead.

Posted by: AndyS at October 29, 2003 06:41 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I think seamus is a little off in his characterization of the Rendell tax/education plan. From what I have read, the idea is to raise the income tax to bring the state's share of public school funding back to 50% (as supposedly required by the state constitution but not done at all during my lifetime). I don't know what percentage the state pays now broken down by rural/suburban/urban districts, but I don't think that Rendell's plan changes that dramatically.

The 2nd part of his plan was to implement educational programs like full-day kindergarten. This would benefit the urban districts financially, but I think Rendell has already been forced to abandon this part of the plan.

The 3rd part of the plan is that by providing more state funding, districts provide less local funding. This allows local property taxes to go down (which helps senior citizens) in almost all districts. In Philly, this will result in a cut in the wage tax. So, if you live in say, Lower Merion, and work in Center City, you get both a property tax and wage tax cut with a state income tax increase.

I don't think the tax plan helps Bush in 2004. In fact, Bush and Santorum are doing their best to give PA to the Dems with their stances on abortion, gays, and other cultural issues that don't sell well in the suburbs. Bush was weak there in 2000, and he's not helping himself.

Posted by: Brian at November 9, 2003 01:16 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment