Pennsylvania Democrats changed registration at a higher rate than Republicans over the past four years, an analysis of state election data shows.
Since December 2008, 116,739 Democrats joined the GOP fold as 71,128 Republicans did the reverse, said Villanova University professor Lara M. Brown.
She said her review points to a calming of the Democratic boom found during the 2008 presidential race, and not so much a fundamental shift in the long-Democratic-leaning state. Democrats first gained a registration lead in Pennsylvania in 1960.
“It’s no surprise to me that Democratic affiliation reached its high-water mark” in 2008, when the high-profile primary between Hillary Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama drew many voters into the party, Brown said.
“It’s not to say Democrats won’t register more people over time; I’m sure they will,” she said. “But what’s happening in the state may be essentially a settling-out.”
Likewise, it’s possible some new Democrats in 2008 have since realized “they’re not really Democrats,” said Michael Berkman, a political science professor at Penn State University.
Others might have switched their registration to Republican when they saw more competitive or engaging primary races on the GOP side, he said.
A more comprehensive review, which Brown also completed, found 160,527 Pennsylvania voters switched from any or no affiliation into the Republican Party in the same period. Registered voters who moved to the Democratic Party numbered 120,157 in the same period.
Western Pennsylvania maintained its movement in recent years toward the Republican Party. Four of the five counties bordering Allegheny notched GOP registration gains since 2008.
About 19 percent of the Democrats who became Republicans live in the suburban counties ringing Philadelphia, all of which Obama won in 2008, Brown’s analysis shows.
“It’s not going to be as easy for the Democrats to win all four suburban counties” this year, she said, referring to Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.
Still, Southeastern Pennsylvania remains a heavily Democratic stronghold as conservative Republican stances on social issues “have turned many suburban Philadelphia voters into Democrats,” said Robert Speel, a faculty member at Penn State Erie.
Statewide voter registration is off about 3 percent since 2008, reaching 8,847,093 voters as of Monday. Democrats lost 5.1 percent, and Republicans dipped 3.5 percent, while voters unaffiliated with either party climbed 7 percent. Democrats hold a 50 to 37 percent registration edge over the GOP.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or [email protected].