For the first time since 1988, Pennsylvania donned Republican (GOP) red in the 2016 election. The state had long been considered a Democratic stronghold based on its large cities and substantial working class population. In 2016, Pennsylvania was one of the crucial states, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, in electing Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
While most regions voted more heavily Republican, the region which saw the greatest swing away from the Democratic Party towards President Trump was the Northeastern region. In Lackawanna County, home to Scranton, Trump won 11% more of the vote than Mitt Romney did in 2012 and in Schuylkill County, just south of Lackawanna, Trump brought home 14% more of the vote.
Northeastern Pennsylvania had long been home to the coal mining and steel industries. When these industries left, with increasing globalization, it created a large class of unemployed, and largely white, working class voters 一 the demographic that was key to Trump’s election. These voters had long voted Democratic 一 based on strong union ties 一 but Trump’s economic populist message, based on the idea that “horrible” trade deals, such as NAFTA, were taking away industrial jobs, swayed many of these voters to switch their party allegiance.
Trump’s success in Pennsylvania spilled over into other elections, most notably the senate race where Pat Toomey was narrowly reelected over Katie McGinty, a former Environmental advisor to President Bill Clinton and Secretary of the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency.