Looking Back At The 2020 Election In PA
December 1, 2020
Much like the spirits in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” election returns convey information--sometimes incomplete--about the past, the present, and the future.
Beyond a few diehards still convinced that the election will somehow be overturned thanks to the efforts of the rapidly dwindling group of lawyers willing to have their name listed on a court filing next to that of Rudy Giuliani, the attention of most political types has shifted to the future, and what the 2020 results tell us about the years ahead.
Any number of things contributed to Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, from a surge in Hispanic turnout in South Central Pennsylvania to disillusionment with Trump in blue-collar places like Erie and Northampton Counties—but one thing stands out above all: Biden’s very strong performance in the suburbs of Pennsylvania’s major cities.
In the cities themselves there was little to tell, mostly because Republican performances there have been so dismal for the last two decades that a marginal shift in either direction—Trump slightly improved on his 2016 showing in Philadelphia, for instance—has little larger impact.
In suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, support for Trump simply collapsed as turnout in those places reached extraordinary levels. Dozens of communities Republican enough that they stood with Barry Goldwater in 1964 voted for Joe Biden last month, in more than a few cases reporting a Democratic majority for the first time in their history.
A minor factor is that suburban America no longer looks the way those guiding the Trump campaign imagine it to look: I am a second-generation product of lily-white suburbs. The Long Island suburb in which my father grew up now has a sizable representation of South Asians, local politics in the Los Angeles suburb of my mother’s childhood has long been dominated by competing groups of East Asians, and my own suburban high school now graduates classes one-fifth of whom trace their ancestry to Asia rather than Europe.
Far more important was an implosion for Trump among white, college-educated suburbanites. If these were the reluctant Trump voters of four years ago, they by 2020 had become far-from-reluctant Biden voters. Both by percentage and in the sheer number of votes cast, Biden not only cancelled out Trump’s strength in rural Pennsylvania but scored a remarkable statewide victory.
These are the voters—educated, suburban, generally content with the changing face of their communities, little interested in partisan politics, not terribly ideological but instinctively skeptical of extremes—who are responsible both for Joe Biden’s win here and the continued Republican majorities in the General Assembly. More than any other group, it is they who will determine statewide winners in 2022 and the course of Pennsylvania’s political future.