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