Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, is generally considered a battleground state and part of the Democrats “Blue Wall.” It voted Democratic in all presidential elections held from 1992 up until 2016, when President Donald Trump won the commonwealth by 0.7 percent.
Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation began the 21st century in the 106th Congress with 21 House seats. The delegation has been consistently losing representatives, down two after the 1990 census, another two after the 2000 census, and one more after the 2010 census. Currently, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives delegation has 18 representatives with one vacant seat.
Party control has also been fluctuating. Democrats started with majority control in the 106th Congress with an 11-10 majority, lost it in 2001, gained it back in 2007, lost it again in 2011, and currently have a majority of 9-8 and one vacant seat.
Pennsylvania’s Senate seats started the 21st century with two Republican members but became split in 2007 after Democrat Bob Casey won in the 2006 election against Republican Rick Santorum. Then, Democrats gained control of the Senate in 2009 and incumbent Republican Senator Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic party. Majority control was lost, and the Senate delegation became split once again in 2011 after Republican Pat Toomey took over Specter’s seat, where he still remains today.
Pennsylvania’s recent congressional elections point to swinging trends in the commonwealth between the Republican and Democratic parties. This is congruent with rural Democratic support in the state (displayed in the chart below), which went from -20 percent in 2000, to its highest at -14 percent in 2008, to its lowest at -46 percent in 2016.
Pennsylvania’s recent statewide elections have seen more support for Democrats. On the gubernatorial front, in 2014, Democrat Tom Wolf beat incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett, making Corbett the first incumbent Pennsylvania governor to lose reelection since Democrat William Bigler in 1854. In 2018, Wolf was re-elected to his second term, beating Republican Scott Wagner by a double-digit margin. The same year, the former Mayor of Braddock, Democrat John Fetterman, won the lieutenant governor position.
Political division in the commonwealth is congruent with the differences in urban and rural voters. Pennsylvania has an estimated population of over 12.8 million people, and nearly 1.5 million of them, about 11 percent, live in rural areas. Out of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, 48 of them are rural.
Age demographics in Pennsylvania have also shifted recently. In 2018, there were more voters aged 18-24 than there were voters aged older than 65 for the first time in the commonwealth’s history. Registered voters are also divided, with 48 percent being Democrats, 38 percent being Republicans and 1.2 million people being independent, causing the scale to flip either way.
Rural Democratic support in Pennsylvania was highest, although still not a positive vote percentage, when Pennsylvania elected former President Barack Obama to his first term. In 2008, Obama won 54.7 percent to 44.3 percent against Senator John McCain. The 2008 election saw the largest popular vote margin, 3,192,316 to 2,586,496, and President Obama faced a more modest 14-point margin in rural Democratic support. In 2012, Obama won the commonwealth again, carrying it 52 percent to 46.8 percent against Republican Mitt Romney.
However, come 2016, rural Democratic support in Pennsylvania bottomed out, with Hillary Clinton losing rural Democratic support by 46 points. President Donald Trump won 48.2 percent to 47.5 percent against Hillary Clinton, with a very close popular vote of 2,970,733 to 2,962,441. Hillary Clinton was favored to win, as Obama had won the commonwealth by 5.2 percentage points in 2012.