The State Where Trump Is Turning Democrats Into Republicans

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Why you should care

Because assuming Republicans are screwed may be a tad presumptive.

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Video by Matthew Reyes

In a year where conventional wisdom has been unconventionally awful, would-be political philosophers should probably take a page from Plato and accept that true wisdom is knowing one thing: “That I know nothing.” Case in point: Democrats have long said that the rise of Donald Trump would cause a voter stampede to vote blue, ushering their nominee into the presidency with a landslide victory.

Maybe. But consider that, at least in the Keystone State, which holds its primary tomorrow, voters have been stampeding … in the opposite direction.

Almost 60,000 registered Democrats switched to the Republican Party in Pennsylvania this year, according to state voter rolls. Meanwhile, only 19,000 Republicans made the reverse conversion.

Those numbers were shocking, says Megan Sweeney, communications director for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania: “I called [the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation] to see if that reflected what they were seeing. It was.” State Democrats point out that they’re winning the battle to convert independents … and when those previous outsiders are counted, Republicans have added only about 30,000 more voters. “There’s nothing historically anomalous,” says Penn Dem chair Marcel Groen. (Note: Pennsylvania Secretary of State historical data show this exodus, if not unusual, is significantly larger than in past election cycles.)

But while the cause of the voter shift is debatable, the numbers do suggest it may be too early for Bill Clinton to start picking out that White House china. Be skeptical “of national polls and trends,” says Franklin & Marshall pollster-slash-political scientist Terry Madonna, an expert in Pennsylvania politics. “Do I think Trump has a lot of problems? Yes. But who knows what will happen.” Those problems: Trump has very high negatives — 64 percent of Americans viewed him unfavorably, according to a Huffington Post average of national polls in April — and a third of his own party says they would sit out rather than vote for him. In Pennsylvania, Trump could benefit from so-called “Reagan Democrats,” blue-collar workers who may have been registered as Democrats previously but who have switched Republican to back Trump and his stance against free-trade agreements that have hurt the southwestern workers of the state. Trump may also capitalize on the unpopularity here of a certain sitting president. “Folks who strayed into the Democratic Party eight years ago, because of Barack Obama, are coming home,” says Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Or perhaps there’s another reason for Democratic flight. Anecdotally, the Democrats’ Groen says a number of party members told him they went Republican to vote against Trump. “The people who switched just to vote against Trump will come back” for the general election, he says. Which is an interesting theory … until Madonna, an independent political watcher, says he’s heard of liberals switching to vote for Trump, thinking he’ll be the easier general election opponent for their candidate. “It’s what I call sabotage voting,” Madonna says, while noting that these crossover folks are “a very small part of Pennsylvania’s 8.2 million voters.”

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