It was a humiliating habit of mine every four years: I would predict a Republican presidential victory for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, only to see my predictions crash and burn. In 2016, I didn’t dare go there, predicting a big win for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats not only in Pennsylvania but nationwide. Wrong again. So, that’s not a wise way of introducing a column telling you that I think Donald Trump will win Pennsylvania (and thus the Electoral College and the election) in 2020, but it’s at least an honest admission of my unimpressive predictive abilities. Take it or leave it. And really, my prediction this time is based on lessons learned from last time.
Here’s my thinking, based on the anecdotal and the statistical, wrapping up with what I believe are the crucial figures that the national media is unaware of:
First, there are the signs. That is, the literal signs. They are truly everywhere. I drove across the entire state the weekend before last, and regularly travel all over western Pennsylvania (my home). The signs for Donald Trump are stunning, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I saw the signs in 2016 and didn’t take them seriously enough. I was struck by them, as were other Trump doubters I knew. But still, signs are anecdotal. We ignored them as indicators. Nonetheless, the sheer number and types were indeed telling. In 2020, this is the case again — on steroids. I have driven down rural roads where every yard has a Trump sign. No exaggeration.
It isn’t just the number of signs, but the kind. The typical Biden sign says that and nothing more — a little placard obviously grabbed from local Democratic Party headquarters. The Trump signs are a different breed. They are boisterous, massive, homemade, sides of buildings, barns, entire yards, flags urging, “TRUMP 2020: No More Bulls—,” photos of Trump’s face transposed over Rambo, ripping his shirt open, images of Trump as Superman, and on and on. A friend saw a farmer’s cow painted “TRUMP.”
These signs reflect something very significant: an obvious enthusiasm gap for the two candidates. There are a lot of Trump supporters who adore the guy, would set themselves on fire for the man. That passion for Joe Biden is not there.
As for the statistical, the polling gap has closed considerably. As I write on Monday evening before the Tuesday vote, the RealClearPolitics average for Pennsylvania is Biden by 2.9 percent, down from 3.8 percent last week. The most recent polls listed are Susquehanna (Trump +1), Rasmussen (Biden +3), Trafalgar (Trump +2), Insider Advantage (Trump +2), and NBC (Biden +5). The Insider Advantage poll (conducted on October 25) is actually higher than 2 percent. In a strangely misleading round-up and round-down, the poll was summarized as Trump leading Biden by 48 to 46 percent, but the actual numbers are Trump 48.4 to 45.5 percent, or Trump by 2.9 percent (i.e., almost 3 percent rather than 2 percent). Matt Towery, chairman of Insider Advantage, confidently asserts that the polls showing a huge lead for Biden are flat-out “wrong.”
Notable among these is the Trafalgar poll, which last week had the two candidates tied, followed by Trump ahead 0.8 percent over the weekend and now ahead by 2.0 percent. (Trafalgar also has Trump up by 2 percent or more in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio, and down by a mere 0.4 percent in Wisconsin.)
In 2016, I predicted a Hillary win because of the overall RCP polling averages. In 2020, however, I can’t do that. I believe that Trafalgar and Insider Advantage are attuned to what others are missing. Both account for the so-called “shy” Trump voter, who’s really the scared Trump voter. These voters aren’t so much shy about telling pollsters they’re voting for Trump but are scared to admit it. They fear retribution from leftist brutes on social media and the cancel culture. My friend Salena Zito, a virtual prophetess of the 2016 election (click here for our recent discussion at Grove City College), writes of these voters in her final pre-election piece for the Washington Examiner:
They don’t want their neighbors to know they are voting for Trump because they fear being shunned socially as well as economically.
Place a Trump yard sign along your porch, and there go the invitations to the block parties and the networking events that help grow businesses, and here comes the isolation while standing at the sidelines of your kid’s soccer games.
Tell a reporter your name in a story, and that could affect your small business or your employer or your kids or your wife. The anti-Trump troll spend their days scouring social media looking for someone to shame, someone to make a fool of, someone to destroy, all because these voters are not falling in line with their political religion.
These are all very real sentiments felt by voters thanks to social media’s descent in our culture from a place to connect and inform, to a place to destroy.
That assessment is very real. Salena Zito knows as well as anyone because she’s an excellent reporter on the ground.
And as for Pennsylvania, Salena, like me, is a fellow native of western Pennsylvania. We’re both seeing the same things. The Trump enthusiasm here is off the charts. This past Saturday in my hometown of Butler, Pennsylvania, a massive crowd (one source reported 57,000) greeted Trump at the local airport.
And like me, Salena says that she has yet to meet someone in this area who voted for Trump in 2016 but plans to vote against him in 2020. To the contrary, we’re both meeting boatloads who didn’t vote for him in 2016 but plan to vote for him in 2020. In our neck of the woods, two issues repeatedly come up: court packing and fracking — or, better put: fracking, fracking, fracking. Those huge Biden liabilities have prompted many to feel compelled to vote for Trump strictly to prevent Biden and the hard Left from getting to the White House. Watching the Steelers–Ravens game on KDKA-TV over the weekend, I was struck by the deluge of ads featuring blue-collar guys from mill towns resurrected by the energy industry. One hard-hat worker laments the catastrophic prospect of everything going away if Biden wins: “I think it’s disgusting,” he says contemptuously. Another who’s voting for Trump says, “I’m a proud union man and a Democrat.”
All of this reflects Trump’s surge after the second debate, particularly Biden’s suicidal (but honest) answer on energy, oil, and fracking at the close of the debate, as he was wearing down and let his mask slip. That statement by Biden was devastating to his Pennsylvania prospects.
But most important, and being missed by national pundits, are the eye-opening numbers on Republican voter registration gains in Pennsylvania since 2016. In the final stretch before voter registration ended, Republicans outgained Democrats in 62 of 67 counties. Democrats had higher registration in only Allegheny, Dauphin (barely, by a mere 43 registrations), Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia. Only in Philadelphia were there sizable gains. Moreover, the Republican pickups in counties like Bucks, Erie, Lancaster, Washington, Westmoreland, York, and others were quite impressive.
In 2016, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, or 2,970,000 to 2,926,000 for Hillary Clinton. Could Trump maintain that margin in 2020? Here’s a crucial figure suggesting he can: In November 2016, Democrats had a 900,000-person registration advantage in Pennsylvania. In November 2020, they have a 700,000-person advantage. They’ve lost 200,000. Back in May, the Democrats’ margin was 803,000. By the October 19 registration deadline, it was down to 700,853. That is quite a surge by Republicans. It’s almost impossible to imagine that the GOP surge doesn’t represent a high level of enthusiasm for Donald Trump. Elections are about turnout, and that surge suggests a very strong turnout for Trump.
Pennsylvania, especially western Pennsylvania, has become very Republican. Nearly a half million Pennsylvania Democrats have switched their registration to Republican since 2008, with many of them in the western part of the state. Consider Westmoreland County, adjacent to Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County: A total of 22,597 Westmoreland Democrats became Republicans since 2008. Trump crushed Hillary in Westmoreland, by a two-to-one margin of 64 to 32 percent, or by 57,000 votes. What has happened in Westmoreland since 2016? It has become even more Republican. In 2019, Westmoreland became a Republican majority in a county Democrats had dominated for more than half a century.
The same is true for Cambria County, home of Johnstown (old John Murtha territory), once a Democrat stronghold. Trump trounced Hillary there by 67 to 30 percent, or 24,000 votes. What has happened in Cambria since 2016? Likewise, it has become a Republican county.
To be sure, a big difference between 2016 and 2020 for the Democrats is that Hillary Clinton was loathed and Joe Biden is not. I’ve been underscoring that Biden advantage since February. But still, there’s little to no enthusiasm for Biden; it’s all in Trump’s corner. Moreover, I also don’t see Biden picking up any meaningful proportion of the black vote that Hillary failed to pick up from Obama. To the contrary, there are indicators that Trump should improve his share of black votes, especially among black men.
The only obstacles I can see to Donald Trump’s path is early voting — that is, an inordinate number of early votes already cast when Biden led Trump significantly in the polls — and corruption in crookedly filthy Philadelphia. “The possible spoiler is Philadelphia,” assesses a friend after crunching some data. “How did they achieve their alleged large increase in voter registration? They added about 3,900 residents from 2017 to 2018 and a measly 472 last year. Another article said about 16,000 people registered before the March primary deadline this year.” Where has Philly picked up new registered voters? “My guess is a combination of more dead voters, ballot harvesting, and fraudulent mail-in ballots,” says my friend. “Philly may be on a mission to steal Pennsylvania from Trump.”
It isn’t just Philadelphia. As George Parry notes in his American Spectator piece “Stealing Pennsylvania,” “Given Pennsylvania’s recently decreed rules for receiving and counting mail-in ballots, there may be no percentage of honest votes large enough to overcome the voter fraud already underway in the Keystone State.” He quotes Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group, who says that Trump in 2020 will “need to win Pennsylvania by four or five [percentage points] to overcome the voter fraud that’s going to happen there.”
While the prospects for fraud look bad, Trump’s numbers in Pennsylvania otherwise look good, especially the Republican registration numbers — plus the throngs, the signs, the off-the-charts enthusiasm.
What it suggests is a Trump victory in Pennsylvania. And if Donald Trump wins Pennsylvania, he’ll win the Electoral College.