Politics & Policy

Why Trump Can Win Pennsylvania

Trump supporters at a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., April 21, 2016. (Carlos Berria)
Given current trends, with a few tweaks to his approach, the Republican nominee could win Pennsylvania for the first time in a quarter century.

In recent years, the state of Pennsylvania has been pithily described as “Lucy’s Football” — as a place where, however favorable the winds might seem, the Republican party’s aspirations are always thwarted. In this piece, I will make the case that, while this trend has certainly been apparent for the last couple of decades, it is by no means destined to continue forever.

In making this case, I will look at the recent electoral history of the state, examine recent changes in voter registration, analyze demographic data provided by the U.S. Census, hone in on primary-season participation at both the county and municipal levels, and take into account recent polling (as of July 16, 2016). In so doing, I shall demonstrate that not only is Pennsylvania a rare brightening prospect for the GOP, but that it may in fact prove uniquely fitting for the party’s 2016 nominee, Donald Trump.

For the record, I consider myself to be a Republican, albeit one for whom this election cycle has been jarring, nasty, and clarifying. As a result, writing this piece has been bittersweet. I’ve spent the better part of a decade obsessing over the prospect of Pennsylvania trending red — indeed, it has been the one thing I’ve thought and written about to the point of mania — but now, at the point at which it seems likely to happen, I am not sure how to feel about it.


An Introduction and a Little Housekeeping


At the Decision Desk, we prefer to display election returns in a format that illustrates where the voters actually live in a given state. Here, for example, is a traditional map of Pennsylvania:

And here is what the most populated counties look like when adjusted to reflect their share of the overall vote. I will use this latter model for election results and changes in voter registration:

As you can see, the Philadelphia metropolitan area explodes in size, while most of central Pennsylvania is squeezed out of existence. All labeled counties make up at least 1 percent of the total statewide vote.


You’ll see the following phrases used frequently, so here’s a quick explainer:

The “T” and Pennsyltucky — The non-urban regions of Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, nicknames earned from political consultant James Carville’s famous analysis of the state.

The Collar — The four suburban counties that encircle Philadelphia proper: Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Bucks.

Bidenland — a stretch of more blue-collar (and unevenly improving economically) counties due north of the Collar that include the municipalities of Scranton, Carbondale, Wilkes-Barre, Allentown, and Bethlehem. I’ve nicknamed the region this because it is the birthplace of our vice president, and reflects the sort of Democratic voter, once more loud and dominant, that has kept the share of the white vote in the North less Republican than in the South.

Main Line — A corridor of very wealthy suburbs stretching out of Philadelphia into Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. Historically Republican, they have taken a sharp leftward turn in the last 20 years.

A Brief Electoral History of Pennsylvania

The 2000 Presidential Election

As the 1990s progressed, Bill Clinton enjoyed increasing support in the Philadelphia suburbs that had once been a hotbed of Republicanism. Clinton also enjoyed strong popularity with white, blue-collar voters in Erie, Scranton, and Pittsburgh. When, in 2000, Al Gore ran to replace him, the broad assumption was that Clinton’s vice president would be able to carry on the Democrats’ two-cycle winning streak. He did:

Thanks mostly to big margins in Philadelphia and in still-blue metropolitan Pittsburgh, Vice President Gore defeated Texas governor George W. Bush by a margin of about 205,000 votes. Though he lost, Bush did well in central Pennsylvania, sweeping Lancaster and York by wide margins. He was also competitive in Pittsburgh’s suburbs, which would grow to become a Republican asset in subsequent elections.

The 2004 Presidential Election

In 2000, President George W. Bush hadn’t campaigned much in Pennsylvania. But that changed in 2004. During Bush’s reelection campaign, the Republicans committed millions of dollars and millions of volunteer hours across the state. As a result, the GOP managed to drive down the Democrats’ overall margin to under 2 percent statewide (140,000 votes). Nevertheless, Pennsylvania voted more Democratic than the country as a whole — by about five points.

As you can see from the chart above, the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, secured large margins in Philadelphia city, won three out of four of the Philadelphia Collar Counties (Delaware, Montgomery, and Bucks), and maintained the long-running Democratic edge in the Pittsburgh media market. By contrast, Bush dramatically drove turnout in the central part of the state and made inroads in Erie, Lackawanna, and Luzerne Counties. While Kerry did manage to win Pittsburgh, Bush improved on his 2000 performance in Westmoreland, Washington, and Fayette Counties.

The municipal level reveals these changes a bit better: Various townships in the Pittsburgh area are turning varying shades of red (watch them especially in the next two such maps). Bush’s inroads in the northeastern cities, such as Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Allentown are more obvious here. The region that the moved away from him was the outer and middle collar around Philadelphia, particularly that Main Line area.

The 2008 Presidential Election

By the time that the 2008 election rolled around, President Bush’s approval rating had slipped into the 30s, the nation was in the midst of an economic meltdown, the mortgage bomb had finally gone off, and the Democratic party had nominated a young, energetic African American who drove up turnout to historic levels. In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by a decisive 10.3 percent margin:

As the above graphic shows, Obama won Philadelphia by the largest margin that any Democrat had ever enjoyed, and succeeding in turning out minority-heavy portions of the state — among them Erie, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Reading, Lancaster, the inner suburbs of the Philadelphia Collar, and Bethlehem. The Philadelphia suburbs turned decisively to the Democrats as well, and even Pennsyltucky took a turn towards Team Blue:

Senator John McCain lost badly, but improved on Bush’s performance in the Pittsburgh media market, which continued to trend Republican. Despite the scale of Obama’s national victory, Pennsylvania’s “lean” shifted to the right (in other words, the state became less Democratic relative to the national vote than it had been in 2004).

The 2012 Presidential Election

Despite promising early on that it would work hard to win the state, the Romney campaign effectively ignored Pennsylvania until the last minute, choosing instead to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Nevada. The result? Not what you might presume. Interestingly, despite Republican neglect, President Obama’s 2008 margin was halved to just 309,000 — a little over 5 percent statewide. Moreover, the president’s two-party vote margin was closer in Pennsylvania than in Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

As you can see in the chart above, Mitt Romney improved a little along the Main Line, in Bucks, in Berks, and in the T, and he flipped the Pittsburgh media market from blue to red for the first time since 1972. Moreover, Democratic turnout dropped in Bidenland.

And yet, disastrously for the GOP, many persuadable voters chose to stay home rather than to vote for the Republican. Notably, Romney received fewer votes than McCain had in Philadelphia, effectively widening the president’s edge there to just under 500,000 votes. Moreover, Romney’s weakness among white, blue-collar voters in the north hurt him badly. The chart below illustrates the different ways in which the northeastern municipalities and the bigger metropolitan suburbs shifted:

And yet all was not lost. Certainly, Romney’s defeat was disappointing. But, as many Republicans began to look over the numbers, they realized the state was definitely shifting. For a start, they noticed that Pennsylvania’s “partisan lean” had eroded even further — to just 1.5 percent more Democratic than the national vote. Furthermore, despite increasing their voter-registration edge in the state by over 600,000 from 2000 to 2012, Democrats had only netted another hundred thousand participating voters in that stretch. Overall, the state had become redder in the west and bluer in the east.

Changes in the Electoral Math Make Pennsylvania Unavoidable

In the last six presidential elections, Pennsylvania has been close. But it has always broken for the Democrats. Because of this — and because of a general perception that the state is “fool’s gold,” Republican strategists have been tempted to make foolish electoral choices. As mentioned earlier, incredible sums of money were flooded into Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia in 2012, but yielded results less favorable than in Pennsylvania.

In Nevada, Democrats can now boast of their 120,000 voter-registration edge in Clark County. In Colorado, the six-figure Republican registration advantage has evaporated in just four years. In Virginia, once a ruby-red state, the slide towards the Democrats (relative to the national vote) has shown no sign of slowing down; even before Trump became the nominee, new voter registrations continue to flood the blue D.C. suburbs, while the reddening portions of the state along the West Virginia border are losing population.

Put bluntly, Republicans have to accept the cold reality: Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia, are no longer red, reddish purple, or even purple anymore, and that without dramatic drop-offs in voter participation, winning even midterm fights in those states may be a daunting task for the GOP. Or, put another way, Republicans need to recognize that Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia are no more likely to help a Republican presidential nominee than is Pennsylvania.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

Trump’s Unique Electoral Path

Donald Trump’s rhetoric has cost him dearly. Thus far at least, Trump is losing college-educated whites, is doing worse than Mitt Romney did with Hispanics, and, in a few state polls, has managed the impressive feat of winning zero percent of blacks. Absent a dramatic change in his style or his fortunes, Trump is therefore not going to win Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia, and, in consequence, any pathway to the 270 Electoral College votes he needs will not include those states.

What about Ohio, without which no Republican has ever won the White House? That certainly seems possible. Not only has the state held a natural lean towards the GOP — even in bad years — but Trump has polled adequately there. But, even if we assume that Trump wins all of Romney’s states plus the Buckeye State, he would still fall 45 votes short of a 269 Electoral Vote tie (which would be broken by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives). Adding Florida would put him within striking distance (though, as Nate Cohn notes, Trump’s image among Hispanic voters makes the state very wobbly for him), but he would still be 16 electoral votes short.

To make up these crucial 16 electoral votes, then, Trump would need to win one of either Michigan or Pennsylvania, or to put together a combination of Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine’s second congressional district, and Wisconsin. Of these options, current polling suggests that Pennsylvania is by far the strongest option for Trump.

On July 16, I went back through the RealClearPolitics average of polls and built a snapshot of where President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Governor Mitt Romney, and, now, candidate Donald Trump stood on that date in twelve battleground states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. The result: Donald Trump’s deficit in Pennsylvania against Hillary is the smallest of any Republican candidate since 2000, and it’s the only state where he does better than Bush, McCain, or Romney:

The above spreadsheet shows where Trump stands right now. With a few improvements and some coalition building, Trump is within striking distance of actually landing a spear on the Great Blue Whale of Pennsylvania. To explain why, I’ll take a look at how voter registration has changed, how Democratic voter-participation rates have held up over the years, and what this means for Donald Trump in 2016.

The Declining Democratic Registration Edge

Pennsylvania had seen a massive surge in voter registration in the lead up to 2008. In 2012, Democrats outperformed that surge, and increased their statewide edge despite suffering a serious drop in eventual participation on election day. Since then, however, it has been on a steady decline.

There have been three main reasons for this:

1) The Philadelphia surge has plateaued. While Democrats have added tens of thousands of voters to their ranks in the metropolitan area since 2012, recent upticks pale in comparison to the extraordinary increase the party enjoyed in the twilight of the last Bush administration. Evidently, Democrats have climbed their mountain: For years, their ascent was extremely impressive, but eventually they reached the summit and there was nothing left to climb. By 2016, the Democrats have effectively tapped out beyond population-growth gains. Once, there was a massive treasure trove of unregistered voters at the ready like there had been; now, there is not.

In the interim between the presidential election and the Philadelphia mayoral primary in May of 2015, Democrats continued to advance in Delaware and Montgomery Counties. But a massive drop-off in registered voters in Philly proper has washed those gains out for the region as a whole.

2) Metropolitan Pittsburgh has been turning red for some time, and the pace of its change has now far exceeded the pace of Democratic gains in Philadelphia. Moreover, while the so-called Kentucky portion of Pennsylvania had trended a little blue after Bush’s reelection, that process has been dramatically inverted:

And, as you can see below, in the run up to this year’s presidential primary, registration shifted toward the Republicans in virtually every county outside of Philadelphia:

3) White voters with No College/Some College in “Bidenland” (that’s Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Allentown, and Bethlehem, the once-rusty portions of the state) dropped off the radar a bit in 2012, but they have seemingly returned in time for this year. And they are registering Republican. In every county north of the Collar, Republican turnout far exceeded that of their Democratic counterparts in the presidential primary (Luzerne, a swing county, saw a 17-point gap in favor of the Republicans), and the GOP continues to make some of its most impressive gains in registration in areas that mostly shunned Romney just four years ago. See below:

Presidential Primary Participation, Demographics, and Areas of Opportunity

One of the unknowns this year is the likely voting intensity of the so-called Obama Coalition: young people, Latinos, women, and African Americans. Also unknown, and perhaps even more intriguing: What happens to the northern, white, bluecollar voters who helped President Obama hold onto the Rust Belt in 2012? After reviewing census estimates of income, race, and education at the municipal level, Miles Coleman and I got our hands on the Democratic primary results of 2008 and 2016 to see if any specific group had exhibited a noticeable drop-off in participation, and to learn therefore if there was any correlation with registration changes in the state.

To be clear: I am not intending to imply here that the overall decline in Democratic primary votes will translate directly to an overall decline in November. Generally, we know that voters tend to migrate to the more exciting election, and, while Clinton-Sanders was somewhat competitive, most of the attention was on the 16-car-pileup behind Donald Trump. As a result, the record-setting primary turnout for the Democrats in 2008 wasn’t going to repeat itself, and Republicans were going to see big numbers nationally. Instead, my focus will be on whether specific blocs dropped off the map in 2016, and if that means anything concrete.

Nationally, college kids Felt the Bern, and African-American voters did their part to help Hillary sweep the South and much of the industrial North and Midwest. Fewer votes were cast this time in many African-American-heavy counties than in 2008, which is understandable: They were making a very personal history in 2008. College kids swarmed to Bernie, so counties with universities saw smaller drop-offs compared to black counties.

And in Pennsylvania? Hillary Clinton easily defeated Bernie Sanders, winning nearly every county, by a wider margin than she had defeated President Obama eight years ago. Total ballots cast dropped 28 percent statewide, which was to be expected given the differences in competitiveness. The party had 936,000 more registered voters than Republicans at the time of the April primary (falling to 919,000 as of July 11), but cast only 87,000 more votes than GOP voters. Activity in most of the state’s heavily black, heavily college-educated, and heavily Hispanic areas declined, but did so in line with the national/statewide numbers or at slightly lower rates. And, overall, there was a noticeable decline in participation in some key areas that could bode well for Trump.

Here is how the state, at the municipal level, looks like by race, income groups, and education levels. We will then dive into each area, exploring their demos, voter participation in April, and what it could imply.

Pennsylvania statewide by race: Statewide, Pennsylvania is pretty white, with just a handful of majority black/Hispanic municipalities:

There are pockets holding sizable Hispanic and black populations in the major metro areas, Lancaster, Reading, Allentown and Bethlehem, and a noticeable chunk in Monroe County:

Pennsylvania statewide by education: An overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians of voting age have graduated high school, though there are some regional differences:

Pennsylvania also has a pronounced regional gap when it comes to the concentration of college graduates. Pittsburgh, other college towns, and especially the Philadelphia suburbs are brimming with them, while Pennsyltucky and the areas of Philly outside of Centre and south central have a fraction of that number (non-college whites in these regions have served as the strongest chunk of Trump’s base):

Pennsylvania by income: Here again, regional differences become screamingly obvious. Much of central and northern Pennsylvania is home to your low-to-lower middle-income residents and voters, while parts of the various metro areas have most of your high-income earners. The biggest concentration of wealthy residents is in the Philadelphia Collar, where six-figure salaries are common:


Analysis by Region


Any presidential-election fight in Pennsylvania will involve Democrats ramping up the votes in Philadelphia, and the Republicans scrambling to scoop up voters everywhere else. Philadelphia delivered a massive margin for President Obama in his 2012 reelection — just shy of 500,000 votes, in fact. And, despite Obama’s losing a few thousand votes from his 2008 haul, his opponent Mitt Romney received 20,000 fewer votes than John McCain, likely a ding delivered by white, lower-to-middle-income voters. According to current registration statistics, Philadelphia has shed 46,000 Democrats and 13,000 Republicans since November 2012. The city saw a 20.9 percent drop from 2008 in total Democratic ballots cast in the presidential primary, less so than statewide, but uneven city wide:

For the unfamiliar, northeastern Philadelphia is whiter and wealthier; South Philly contains more of your “white, blue-collar” set, mixed with middle-income white-collar types; north-central Philly is home to the city’s Latino population; the central city is the most ethnically mixed, like Williamsburg in Brooklyn but without the toxic levels of hipsterdom; and West Philadelphia is where the Fresh Prince lived before he got in one little fight and his mom got scared.

As you can see above, the central city saw little if any drop in turnout; the majority-black portions of the city were more mixed (the 18 wards that gave President Obama five-figure margins saw a 19 percent drop in turnout); and the whiter portions sank — dramatically in some pockets:

Wards 26, 39, 41, 55, 56, 58, 65, and 66 gave Hillary some of her biggest margins in the 2008 contest. This time around, though, many voters didn’t bother showing up:

As you can see, this year Donald Trump received nearly as many votes in Ward 66 as did Hillary Clinton. In 2008, McCain performed strongest in these wards, but in 2012, Romney saw drop-offs in all of them. In November, these areas will be the primary targets for Trump, who has made it clear that he hopes to appeal strongly to blue-collar voters.

If he is successful, Trump could transform the insurmountable into the manageable. A strong Republican performance in Ward 66 would leave Hillary Clinton short of President Obama’s near-600,000 vote haul, perhaps by as much as 40,000 votes. Moreover, it would leave Trump with as many votes as McCain won in 2008. As a result, the Democratic margin would contract considerably, giving Trump some needed breathing room as he works to win the state.

The Collar

Varad Mehta recently penned a counter-argument to the various Trump-can-win-Pennsylvania stories that have been running around the Web of late and included a crash course on the demographic wall that Trump will face in the wealthy, college-educated Collar part of the state. In response, I would like to examine the region closely, keeping in mind what we saw in the primaries and voter-registration changes.

The Main Line, which is home of the some of the wealthiest and most-educated voters in the suburbs, cast more ballots in this year’s Democratic primary than in its Republican counterpart. Perhaps surprisingly, Trump actually came in second in many of these communities, including Upper and Lower Marion, Haverford, Radnor, and Tredyffrin.

How rich and well educated is this region? Well, looking at the percentage of college degrees (in the first image) and at the percentage in the wealthiest income bracket analyzed (>$200k) . . . 

 . . . the answer is “pretty damn rich.” (There are lots of degrees, too.)

The Main Line straddles Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery Counties. These areas have been Democratic for some time, regardless of who was the Republican nominee. Democratic registration gains haven’t slowed one bit in Montgomery nor in Delaware, long predating the coming of Trump.

Hillary Clinton may expand on President Obama’s margins in the Main Line. And yet these municipalities are going to have less bearing on the net outcome than the outlying areas, middle-income zones, and white, blue-collar regions where the more persuadable voters who  decide the county winners actually live.

One community that could turn towards Trump is Bensalem, in lower Bucks. In 2012, Bensalem gave Obama his second strongest margin in all of Bucks — 4,368 votes — and effectively handed him the county. But in April’s primary, Trump received more votes than Clinton, and more ballots were cast for Republican presidential candidates than Democratic ones. In fact, this year’s primary saw 30 percent fewer Democratic ballots cast here, more in line with declines in Northeastern and South Philadelphia.

Voter participation in the Democratic primary fell in other middle-income areas in the Collar, too. Turnout declined over 30 percent in Upper Chickchester in Delaware, and overall Democratic primary participation fell from 2008 levels in Bristol by 37 percent, in Falls by 32 percent, in Middletown by 40 percent, and in Tullytown by 36 percent. The municipalities that make up Levittown frequently lift Democrats’ overall margins in the county — if he can make inroads in communities with similar profiles, even with a decline in the Main Line, Trump stands to improve on Romney’s overall performance in the burbs.

Western Pennsylvania

Whiter and more blue collar than the Philadelphia metro area, Pittsburgh and the smaller cities in the west have been trending Republican for some time. Voter-registration changes since 2012 indicate that Republicans stand to make substantial gains here, continuing a multi-decade trend. Pittsburgh proper saw a 24 percent reduction in votes cast during the 2016 primaries, and predominantly black Penn Hills saw an equal shrink. Again, areas where the more mixed, younger coalition that has defined President Obama’s base have performed better than average in terms of primary engagement over 2008.

Even with a Trump romp in the state, Allegheny County will remain stubbornly blue thanks to the city of Pittsburgh. But it’s principal city is rapidly becoming an island in a reddening sea. In the last four years, metro Pittsburgh, Erie, Altoona, and Johnstown have seen a six-figure drop in the Democratic registration edge that has overrun all of the Democratic gains in much larger Philadelphia.

Simply put, the Demographics of the west favor Trump, even given his currently limited coalition.

It’s whiter:

It has fewer college-educated voters:

And it hosts lower median incomes than Philadelphia (although they are not too low):

Voter-registration changes in Western Pennsylvania have continued to favor Republicans, as the region as a whole has been in a multi-decade transition towards the GOP. There was an assumption early on that Hillary may have had a chance to reverse this slide, but there has been no hard evidence of that in the registration stats. The changes continued despite her presence in the primary.

The 2008–2016 decline has been echoed in the rest of western Pennsylvania: In Erie, Democratic registration has dropped 35 percent; in McKeesport, 47 percent; in Altoona 39 percent. These numbers fall in line with what we’ve seen regionally.


This a region that Republicans were hoping to crack into in 2012. “Bidenland” contains a large collection of white, blue-collar towns and cities in northeastern Pennsylvania, including the counties of Wyoming, Luzerne, Lackawana, Lehigh, and Carbon. Voter-registration trends started favoring Republicans after the 2012 cycle, but accelerated dramatically in the lead up to the April primary. This area essentially contains his default demographic. Bidenland is home to Americans without college degrees:

It is poor:

And it is very, very white:

In their own right, the demographics of the area — and, indeed, the voter-registration shifts, which especially in the last year may even be influenced by Trump’s presence in the race — would be cause enough for Republicans and Trump to be excited. But the Democratic decline in voter participation, in one primary after another, is larger here than anywhere else in the state.

How large? In Bethlehem, in 2016, it was at parity with the statewide decline, at 28 percent. But in Allentown, it fell by 35 percent; in Scranton by 35 percent; in Carbondale by 37 percent; in Pottsville by 35 percent; and in Wilkes-Barre by a massive 45 percent. On paper, these were some of Hillary’s best regions in the state, and yet this time the electorate was not interested in showing up. Even in Reading — a city with a majority Hispanic population that has made the county competitive for Democrats — voter participation fell by over 35 percent.

Voter participation in these areas fell between the 2008 and 2012 general elections as well; these are likely those white, Democratic-leaning voters Nate Cohn discussed in his piece about the 2012 electorate being whiter than initially assumed. In 2012, President Obama’s campaign team took out soft advertising that aimed to remind voters of Romney’s business deals, and effectively neutralized any party switching in the region. But, four years later, that switching has come to pass. In the last year, Democratic registration and participation has dropped, and Republican participation has jumped. In Lehigh County, Republicans cast 404 fewer ballots than Democrats, despite a registration deficit of almost 33,000.

Which is to say that “Bidenland” is in danger of becoming “Trumptown,” and Democrats know it. Put simply, Democrats cannot afford to lose these counties and to lose metropolitan Pittsburgh, even if a brusque candidate such as Trump turns off the suburbanites. In the next few cycles this area could prove ripe for long-term switching, similar to what Pittsburgh experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. It should come as no surprise that Hillary’s campaign team has stepped up efforts in this region of the state.

The Elephant in the Room: Donald Trump

As we have seen, there is a lot of positive news for Trump here. But now we must address the negatives, which have mostly to do with Trump himself. In particular, Trump has two key problems: First, while Pennsylvania is bucking the battleground trend, the Trump campaign is effectively non-existent in the state. Second, Trump’s preference for the abrasive may eventually do more harm than good.

The latter observation is the product of more than a desire for good manners; psephologically, Trump’s rudeness matters. If left unchecked, his caustic and erratic talking style may turn off moderates; his humiliation of the #NeverTrump movement may leave millions of votes on the table; and his racially charged statements about Mexican rapists and Black Lives Matter may leave him limited to his current coalition. If Trump actually wants to win Pennsylvania, he will need to avoid scaring off suburban voters (a Marist poll recently had him underwater in the ’burbs 2 to 1) and antagonizing blacks, and instead to refine his message.

Here are a few suggestions as to how he can do better.

1) Trump should end his feud with the conservatives and moderates in the Republican party. He won, and everybody knows it. Instead of further antagonistic rhetoric, he should talk up various blocs in the party and ask positively for their vote. A lot of Republicans hate Trump in large part because of his destructive behavior and his apparent ignorance. In consequence, he should bone up on policy, show an inkling of interest in learning and improvement, and calm his destructive side. These actions would give many Republicans something to grab onto, especially since most of them really don’t like Hillary Clinton and don’t want to see her become the next president.

If applied properly, Trump’s existing rhetorical elements can work for more than just his base.

2) Next, Trump should start aiming his “you’re getting screwed” message towards blocs that he has either previously antagonized or that strongly suspect that he doesn’t care for them. I am talking, of course, about blue-collar black and Hispanic men. These groups worry about wages; they worry about their neighborhoods; they worry about their property values and their careers — they worry, in other words, about everything the disillusioned blue-collar white bloc that propelled Trump cares about. Trump should talk about drug policy (the opioid epidemic is now starting to hammer rural whites), about prison and health-care reforms, and other issues that aim to bring the endless cycle of screw-overs to a close.

It is peculiar that Trump has not grasped this yet, but here it is: If applied properly, his existing rhetorical elements can work for more than just his base. He is not going to reverse his standing with Latinos to the point at which he wins a majority of them, but mitigating his earlier damage and with other minority blocs is still possible.

3) Given my own interracial family, this one comes from a personal perspective: Trump should resist the temptation to be an ass, and continue speaking in the sort of language we saw in his press release after the Dallas shooting. Trump could acknowledge the fact that too many people are dying; press home that we’re being divided but we don’t have to be; talk up reforms that would put cops in fewer unnecessary interactions with citizens, and thereby reduce deaths; and demand swift justice for those who target law-enforcement officers. Resist the temptation to make this racially charged, and instead acknowledge that grievances exist, and we can work through our divisions productively for the good of all.

At first, some of this will sound extremely awkward. But a genuinely optimistic message on a subject that has taken a dark turn in recent years would be well received — and not just in Pennsylvania. If Trump can turn the corner, many voters who have been turned off by his previous antics will give him a second chance. Considering how unpopular the Democratic nominee is, lessening his negatives would go a long way in the suburbs — and even in the cities.


The state of Pennsylvania has changed considerably over the last few decades, and provides a prime opportunity for Donald Trump — if, and only if, he changes some behaviors that will cost him votes in key areas. Given current trends — and presuming that the campaign makes an effort to expand beyond his core voters — I could see Trump winning all but Erie, Lackawanna, Centre, Allegheny, Montgomery, Delaware, and Philadelphia counties, and squeaking by with a 1 to 2 percent victory:

That is a narrow, narrow win. But a win is a win is a win, and it is within his grasp. As the polling stands now, he will lose the state by five points. But if he changes tack, he can emerge victorious — not only in Pennsylvania, but elsewhere too. This is a state that is ripe for the picking — perhaps more so than at any point in the last 25 years. It’s up to Trump and his campaign whether he wants to reach out and take it.

Brandon Finnigan is the founder of Decision Desk HQ, the only national election-night-results reporting site completely independent from the wire services. His bipartisan team also provides election analysis of congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential races. You can subscribe and support their work at daily.decisiondeskhq.com.

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