Pennsylvania 2000

December 2000

Vice President Al Gore won Pennsylvania's 23 electoral votes by winning the popular vote, 51 to 46 percent, over Governor George Bush.  Ralph Nader, whose pre-election poll support hovered at the 5 percent, was a non-factor at 2 percent of the popular vote.  The final Keystone Poll (October 31, 2000) indicated that more than half of Naders supporters might switch their vote choice before election day, which they obviously did.  Most of the pre-election polls in the state showed a close contest between Bush and Gore as the campaign headed into the final days.  The Voter News Service (VNS) Pennsylvania Exit Poll revealed that most late deciders, those making a vote choice within a week of the general election, broke decisively for Gore, 54 to 41 percent.

Gores victory in the state was similar in its demographic and geographic makeup to President Clintons previous victories in the state, and confirmed voting patterns evidenced in presidential elections during the 1980s and 1990s.  But, Gore did manage to win a majority of the popular vote cast, something Clinton wasn't able to do in either 1992 or 1996.  The Democratic presidential nominee has now won three consecutive presidential elections in the state, 1992, 1996, and 2000, matching the three Republican victories in 1980, 1984, and 1988.

According to the VNS Pennsylvania Exit Poll, Gore convincingly won the elderly (60 to 38 percent) and female (58 to 40 percent) vote.  Among workingwomen, Gore won decisively, 62 to 35 percent.  The poll did not distinguish between married and single women.  In the last Keystone Poll, Gore had a hefty 49 to 29 percent lead over Bush among single women, however.  In 1996, Clinton won the votes of single women, 60 to 30 percent.

The regional composition of the presidential vote was a major factor in determining the outcome of the election.  As expected, Gore carried Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the states largest urban centers, and in the latter, defeated Bush by 342,000 votes, a margin higher than any Democratic nominee since Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in 1964 by 430,000 votes.   Gore also won decisively in the Philadelphia suburbs, an area that includes four heavily Republican counties: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery, a region he won by more than 60,000 votes.  Taken as a whole, the Vice President won southeastern Pennsylvania by a substantial margin, garnering nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the two-party vote.

The southwestern part of the state is another major geographic region critical to electoral victory by either party.  The southwestern region consists of two Democratic components, the city of Pittsburgh and the old manufacturing counties that surround it.  Gore won convincingly in Allegheny County (which includes Pittsburgh) by almost 90,000 votes.  Together, the southeastern portion of the state and Allegheny County accounted for 57 percent of Gores statewide total vote.  Similarly, those two areas represent the bulk of the states urban and suburban voters.  In the old manufacturing counties, however, Gore won by considerably less than the Democratic voter registration in the six counties that have been historically part of the Democratic coalition.  Voters here tend to be more culturally conservative and have shown a tendency in recent years to vote Republican, given a set of circumstances that diminish the importance of the economy in their vote choice.
The Pennsylvania electorate has been slowly realigning itself over the past two decades.  The Democratic southwest has continued to vote Democratic, but by margins substantially less than its voter registration.  Republicans victories occur when they win the rural heartland, deprive the Democrats of their share of the votes of the rural manufacturing counties surrounding Pittsburgh, and win the Philadelphia suburbs.  The Democrats, more than ever, rely on the states urban centers, which are an increasingly higher percentage of the Democratic vote.   Winning the urban votes and sweeping the Philadelphia suburbs essentially made Gores victory possible.  Add Pittsburgh to the Democratic voter base and Democratic candidates produce sufficient votes to win statewide elections.  The key swing-voting block is now the voters who reside in the states suburbs, and their vacillation between Democratic and Republican statewide candidates decide Pennsylvania elections.

One of the major factors in generating a new voter configuration is primarily cultural in nature.  Gun control and abortion have been at the heart of political debate in the state for several decades.  When abortion and gun control are examined regionally, substantial differences exist, as shown in Keystone Polls. Table 1 below depicts the degree to which regional differences appear on gun control and abortion.  Voters in Philadelphia and its suburbs are more likely to support gun control and abortion rights while rural Pennsylvanians (northwest and central) and residents of the southwest are more likely to oppose gun control and reject abortion rights.  Candidates who are pro-choice and support gun control tend to gain the votes of suburban voters while candidates who are pro-life and opposed to gun control tend to do better in the southwestern portion of the state, notwithstanding party registration.

Table 1.  (Keystone Poll, October 31, 2000)

Group Philadelphia Southeast Northeast Allegheny Northwest Central Southwest
Gun Control Support Ratio(a) 8.8:1 3.2:1 2.1:1 1.4:1 1.0:1 0.9:1 0.7:1
Abortion Support Ratio (b) 5.8:1 3.1:1 2.1:1 2.0:1 0.6:1 0.9:1 1.4:1

(a) Represents the ratio of respondents who strongly support gun control to those who strongly oppose gun control.
(b) Represents the ratio of respondents who believe abortion should be legal under any circumstance to those who believe abortion should be "illegal
  under any circumstance."


G. Terry Madonna
Director, Center for Politics & Public Affairs
Chair and Professor, Department of Government
Millersville University

Berwood Yost
Director, Center for Opinion Research
Millersville University

This article appeared in The Polling Report, Vol. 16, No. 22, 2000.