Elections Government

How Voting In Bucks County Can Explain Democrats’ Keystone State Troubles


For eleven straight presidential elections the winner of Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery Counties also won Pennsylvania.

Until last November.

Why did this happen? While there are a multitude of answers, we can uncover several of them by simply studying one of these Philadelphia-area counties: Bucks.

For nearly a century, Bucks County was a Republican stronghold. In fact, from 1860 to 1988 the GOP won 30 out of 33 times in presidential elections. Since 1992, however, Bucks has been blue.

Yet in the past few years a sizable shift has occurred in the Southeastern County. For example, Barack Obama did extraordinary well in 2008, carrying a 28,783 vote advantage.

Sky blue signifies Obama received 50%-53%, royal blue signifies Obama received 53%-58%, blue signifies Obama received 58%-63%, navy signifies Obama received 63% or more. Light salmon signifies McCain received 50%-53%, tomato signifies McCain received 53%-58%, red signifies McCain received 58%-63%, maroon signifies McCain received 63% or more. Yellow signifies ties.

Four years later, the President’s margin dropped to 3,942 votes.

Same color scheme with Romney replacing McCain.

As you can see the President lost most of his upper and central county support yet retained enough in Lower Bucks County. This is significant because most of the votes in the county reside in Levittown/Bristol/Fairless Hills/Croydon area.

Now take a look at 2016.

Same color scheme with Clinton replacing Obama and Trump replacing Romney.

What a difference four years makes.

Upper Bucks is now completely red, while Clinton performed better in Central Bucks than President Obama did. There are areas around Doylestown and in Lower Makefield that Clinton turned blue despite running six and a half points behind Obama’s 2008 margin.

The most striking change, though, is in Lower Bucks. Trump broke through there in a way neither McCain or Romney were able to. As a result, the margin in 2016 was even narrower than four years before, a scant 2,699 votes.

So what caused this sudden shift? Perhaps taking a look at a different map of Bucks, one that tracks the median income by municipality, will provide an answer.

The darker the color, the higher the income in that area.

As you can see the higher income areas, specifically Lower Makefield, largely line up with the spots Clinton made gains. This map also illustrates the working-class nature of Lower Bucks. It would appear that the Democratic Party did indeed trade away part of their working-class base for some higher income independents and soft Republicans.

“In the northern more rural parts of the county Trump increased the Republican share, just as he did elsewhere in rural and small town Pennsylvania,” Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College G. Terry Madonna stated. “In lower Bucks, where working class voters live, Trump also increased the R share, just as he did in the old D mining and mill towns elsewhere in the state. Put another way, parts of Bucks have the elements of the Trump coalition seen elsewhere in the state, and his vote in Bucks helped Trump amass his 44,000 vote victory.”

These conclusions also match up with a map J. Miles Coleman of Decision Desk HQ created.

“As Nick points out, Trump had unique appeal in the area of the county near the Delaware River. Perhaps the most notable area was Levittown, one of the larger communities that spans multiple townships,” Coleman says. “With a stagnant population and strong blue collar presence, if Trump were to make gains in Bucks County, Levittown would be the focal point. On election day, Trump largely ‘hit his marks’ there; in the townships that make up Levittown, he held Secretary Clinton to margins that were considerably tighter than President Obama.”

“Why did Clinton still carry the county if she tanked in friendly areas?” he continued. “She improved over Obama in the central part of the county. Clinton’s gains were mostly focused in a corridor running from Doylestown to Solebury, and then down to Yardley. This part of the county is wealthier and more educated than some of the more traditionally Democratic areas. With both Lower and Northern Bucks becoming redder in 2016, it was interesting to see the migration of Democratic strength to the Central Bucks. This micro-realignment underscores how reliant Clinton’s coalition was on educated suburban voters.”

None of this should’ve caught the Clinton campaign by surprise, however, since the signs were there throughout 2016. For instance, check out how her primary against Bernie Sanders unfolded.

Sky blue signifies Clinton received 50%-53%, royal blue signifies Clinton received 53%-58%, blue signifies Clinton received 58%-63%, navy signifies Clinton received 63% or more. Lime signifies Sanders received 50%-53%, lime green Sanders received 53%-58%, green signifies Sanders received 58%-63%, dark olive green signifies Sanders received 63% or more. Yellow signifies ties.

Already you can glimpse Clinton’s struggles in Upper Bucks and erosion in Lower Bucks.

Furthermore, voter registration statistics over the course of the year showed Bucks was unique among Philadelphia-area counties as it was the only one trending red. From May to October 2016, the Democratic registration advantage declined from 12,138 to 9,500.

Nevertheless, the Democrats should not abandon all hope. Just eight years ago, this is what the Clinton/Obama primary looked like.

Same color scheme with Obama replacing Sanders.

In April 2008, Barack Obama had great difficulty breaking through in Lower Bucks. It can be done, you just need a candidate talented enough and determined enough to accomplish it.

This applies both to national and statewide races, although finding the candidate who can unite the party is of course much easier said than done.

About the author

Nick Field

Nick Field