The Swing States: #1 Pennsylvania

A new, pre-election series.

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #130 | By: Abigail Hunt | May 23, 2024
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In March 1861, British King Charles II of England granted William Penn a parcel of land in the new kingdom across the ocean in order to settle a posthumous debt his father owed to Penn’s. That twist of luck is today the state of Pennsylvania, the site of the 1774 and 1775 Constitutional Congresses, where Americans signed the Declaration of Independence, and where traitors to the Crown formulated their plan to revolt. As such, Pennsylvania was a flagship colony of the emerging nation that became a keystone state in the formation of our United States of America. Appropriate then that the colony which helped launch a nation be a key battleground state in the current presidential election.

In 2020, winning the votes of Pennsylvania’s electors cinched Biden the Oval Office. Likewise, it was a mark thaxt helped Trump win the Presidency when in 2016 the state went red for the first time in decades. Today Biden has an edge in the state – he’s a Scranton boy, born and bred. If voters prefer to vote for someone like themselves, Biden might well carry the state again in part by virtue of being a former neighbor.

Pennsylvania has the sixth highest youth voter turnout rate – 32 percent. Since his Inauguration Day, Biden has held good on his word to eliminate student debt, chipping away at it consistently despite resistance from the grand ol’ party. Millennials are the largest population group in the U.S. The oldest Gen Z kids are finally old enough to vote. Boomers are dying at a rate of 2,000/day, more than 2.5 million/a year. It may be that the reality of mortality is the single most significant determining factor in this year’s election and those yet to come.

Most Pennsylvania voters live in urban areas. Just 22 percent of citizens make their homes in rural communities. As this is the case, Trump and Biden must consider the weight such issues as homelessness and access to affordable housing must carry in the state. Per the 2020 U.S. Census, Pennsylvania’s citizen breakdown is 78 percent urban and also about 78 percent white.

Pennsylvania is a closed party system, meaning only Democrats and Republicans vote in the primaries, and about 1.3 million people were not allowed to vote in the last election. This year’s elections in the state leave both the state House and Senate up for grabs. Currently, the state’s 48th governor, former state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), is backed by a Democratic House and hindered by a Republican Senate. The House has the edge by just two votes, and there sits an empty seat to be filled which is, historically, concretely Republican. The Democrats have only had the majority since 2022, when Pennsylvania redistricted, and 16 seats flipped from Republican to Democrat.

Gender is an important factor in today’s elections – 51.1 percent of the state is female, and 48.9 percent male. Approximately 4.1 percent of the population identifies as queer or LGBT. Data from the Center for American Women and Politics shows that, overwhelmingly, women of all colors lean Democratic, with Biden’s support being strongest among black women – tracking at more than 90 percent approval no matter what entity is providing the statistics.

According to a 2023 Pew Research report, voter turnout in the past three elections has been higher than previous years, and the 2020 election voter turnout had the highest rate since 1900, approximately 2/3rds of the eligible voters, or approximately 66 percent of registered voters. Eight million more members of the Gen Z generation have aged into the voting population in just the past couple of years, a not-at-all insignificant number. By 2029, it is estimated there will be approximately 61.3 million still living Baby Boomers of the original 76.4 million born after World War II. By that time, the elderly will comprise about 20 percent of the nation’s population.

On the state and national levels, key issues of the past persist – abortion access, cannabis legalization, student debt forgiveness, health care access, the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. New and prevalent issues for this election cycle and the coming presidency particularly include the war between Israel and Palestine and how to handle issues with AI and personal and intellectual property. However, the most important issues for citizens are those that most directly affect them – namely, the daily cost of living and how inflation factors into that statistic, access to affordable housing, employment opportunities, health care access – things that directly affect them and their quality of life.

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