Sunday, November 4, 2012

There are no "Reagan Democrats" in Western Pennsylvania

The Romney campaign's attempt to win Pennsylvania has been described as everything from expanding the map to the same last-minute attempt every Republican has made since 1992, in this case due to his inability to pick off OH, IA, WI and a lack of ad saturation in PA, plus the lack of an early vote in the state.

Whichever of these descriptions is true, a common theme in articles giving Romney a shot at Pennsylvania discuss the legions of "Reagan Democrats" that supposedly exist in Western Pennsylvania.

Third, Romney would need to win the other swing bloc, conservative male Democrats concentrated in the Western part of the state around Pittsburgh, Johnstown, and Erie. Once known as “Reagan Democrats,” they’re older, blue-collar, and socially conservative.

In order for Western Pennsylvania to be considered a "Reagan Democrat" area, Ronald Reagan would have needed to have performed well there in comparison to his national performance (as well as in comparison to other Republicans). He did not manage that. In fact, Reagan's performance in Western Pennsylvania (relative to his national performance) was about as bad as it gets; they were anti-Reagan Democrats. In 1984, Mondale won Western Pennsylvania by 6.6 points, a better margin than Carter in 1976 or Gore in 2000 (both of whom won the state), and far better in comparison to his national performance than any other Democrat.

The following graph shows how many points over (or in the case of Obama in 2008 in Western PA, under) their national performance the Democratic candidate for president performed in Western Pennsylvania and in Pennsylvania as a whole. Incidentally, notice that Pennsylvania has been more Democratic than the nation in every election from 1960 to 2008, though usually not by more than a few points. Only five other states (New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island) have been consistently more Democratic than the nation as a whole in those 13 elections (Hawaii was narrowly more Republican in 1960, and has been more Democratic in the last 12).

However, the path to Democratic victory in Pennsylvania has changed somewhat. Before 1996 was come out of Philly + suburbs with at least an 8 point margin and win in Northeast, and then the West would be enough to overcome the 20+ point deficit in Central PA (which James Carville famously referred to as "Alabama"). The new path, for Obama in 2012 is going to be: massive turnout in Philadelphia, split/slight win in the Philly suburbs, win Biden's birth region of Northeast PA by 10, hold central PA to like 15 point deficit, and avoid losing by more than a few in Western PA

Call them Democrats who got shafted by NAFTA (note the precipitous proportional decline for Clinton between 1992 and 1996) or Democrats who cling to their guns and religion, as Obama described them, or for that matter, do as the late Jack Murtha, who knew the area about as well as anyone, and call them racist Democrats (Obama in 2008 was the first candidate to underperform in Western Pennsylvania relative to his nationwide performance since at least 1956, and probably earlier). But don't call them Reagan Democrats. They couldn't stand the guy.

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