Pennsylvania down voters from 4 years ago
Pennsylvania is approaching the Nov. 6 presidential election with 3 percent fewer registered voters than in fall 2008, an unusual slip that political analysts blame on a drop in voter enthusiasm across the country.
Democrats especially experienced a slump, bleeding 229,396 registered voters in Pennsylvania since the last presidential race, state data show. Republicans are down 112,796 registrants, but voters unconnected to either major party grew by 7 percent, or 73,043, according to Pennsylvania Department of State figures. As of Monday the state had 8,487,093 voters, down from 8,755,588 in November 2008, despite a 2 percent population gain. Democrats still hold a 50-37 percentage registration edge over Republicans, down one point from 2008.
The registration deadline for the election was Oct. 9.
“This year, we don’t have such a sense that this election is going to make history the way we did in 2008,” said Pat Dunham, chairwoman of the political science department at Duquesne University. “Enthusiasm in general may have dampened a little. Three-and-a-half years after electing Barack Obama, we see it’s not that easy to change things. ”
For Democrats in particular, “there’s not the same excitement” as four years ago, when the party tallied thousands of registrations, said political analyst Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“There are probably no states that have had incredible increases in voter registration” this time, Skelley said.
Swing states that are losing that status may experience declines in voter registration when candidate visits and advertising shift to areas more in play, political scientists said.
Pennsylvania, which typically votes Democrat for presidents, joined Michigan, Indiana and Missouri to become less of a swing state, said Keystone College professor Jeff Brauer.
Yet even Ohio, the most contested swing state, reported a voter-registration dip of about 490,000 as of September, a nearly 6 percent decrease from 2008. Election officials may remove names from voter rolls when people move, die or go inactive for extended periods.
Another barometer of voter interest — Election Day turnout — is projected to slide. The Center for Politics expects 60 percent of the voting-eligible population will vote, down from about 62 percent in 2008.
The 60 percent figure is about on par with 2004, Skelley said. He said that’s still relatively high, considering turnout rates for presidential elections hovered between 50 percent and 60 percent in the 1990s.
“The true enthusiasm I’ve seen in this election cycle has been against Barack Obama,” Brauer said. “I haven’t seen as much enthusiasm, especially in Pennsylvania, for Mitt Romney or for Barack Obama. But there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm to get rid of Barack Obama. That in itself is going to give Republicans a bit of an edge.”
In Western Pennsylvania, Republican registration increased in at least a half-dozen counties since the 2008 race. Fayette County recorded the biggest jump, 7.8 percent.
“The Democratic Party was no longer the party I grew up in. It was not the party of Bill Clinton; it was not the party of John F. Kennedy,” said Steven Kochanowski, 28, of Potter in Beaver County.
Kochanowski switched his registration from Democrat to Republican in March, contributing to the county’s 2.4 percent increase in GOP voters. He said the Democratic Party “pulls too far to the left” for him, on issues including health care, gay marriage, abortion and gun control.
Washington County Democratic Chairman George Vitteck said the party registered legions of college students in 2008.
“I think probably a lot of them have left the state with different ventures,” Vitteck said. “I don’t see the college people being as enthused now as they were four years ago. But the core Democrats – they’re still there.”
The state will complete voter-registration counts after an Oct. 29 certification deadline, spokesman Ron Ruman said.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or [email protected].