Great Analysis of the Philly Burb Political Dynamics


I was quite pleased to come across two quality election analyses of two Pennsylvania congressional district and their traditional counties of representation. They happen to include both my current county (Bucks), and also the county I grew up in (Delaware). Having read them both, they are quite thorough and good, and done by people who seem to have a grasp for the political situation we’ve been facing here in the Philadelphia suburbs. If you’re interested in the suburban Philadelphia political dynamic, or in Pennsylvania politics in general, I highly recommend following the links. I think it’s very important for all Pennsylvanians to understand the dynamics here, because with the western part of the state rapidly depopulating, politics in this state, including gun politics, is going to increasingly be decided in the Philadelphia suburbs. First, here is an excerpt from the Bucks County analysis:

Bucks, along with the other three suburban counties on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Valley, was traditionally a Republican stronghold. While Lower Bucks, dominated by union influence, has traditionally been Democratic, Republicans have always dominated county politics on a local and statewide level. Bucks County voted about four points to the right of the nation in the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections and about seven points to the right of the nation in the 1988 Presidential election. The right Republicans, ones who could connect with Lower Bucks’ working class, heavily Irish Catholic population, could even squeeze out votes from Lower Bucks. Even if a Republican wasn’t a great fit for Lower Bucks, middle and upper Bucks provided more than enough votes to give Republicans a strong victory countywide. Middle and Upper Bucks have traditionally had a very Christian population but one with a pacifist streak.

However, Demographic changes that have magnified since the early 1990s have stripped Bucks of its historical position as a Republican stronghold. With minority growth in the borough of Bristol, Bristol Township, and Bensalem Township, Morrisville, and Falls Township, Lower Bucks has become harder for Republicans to win crossover votes in the lower third of the county. Additionally, middle aged Jews who had the money to leave Northeast Philadelphia, or their wealthy college graduate children, largely settled in middle Bucks around the Newtown or Doylestown areas …

Read the whole thing, because it’s top notch analysis. It comes with some very interesting heat maps that show how different parts of the county and congressional districts voted. The analysis of Delaware County and the 7th Congressional district is equally good:

For years, Delaware County, Pennsylvania had an almighty, well organized Republican machine that controlled the local government and its politics. Party bosses and the “War Board,” the county Republican Party’s executive committee, ran everything in Delaware County. Even in the county’s historically black areas, like Chester, Republicans controlled many local offices. Current Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester) served as Chester’s mayor between 1999 and 2002 and Chester even had a Republican mayor until 2012. …

The author then goes on to document how Delco has swung hard in the other direction, mostly due to demographic changes. The overall picture in both counties, at least how I read the maps, isn’t so much that the GOP has lost adherents, though the strong social conservatism and bungled war efforts during the Bush years certainly have contributed to that, but that the traditional GOP voters are moving farther out, with urban, largely Democratic voters from Philadelphia moving into the near suburbs. That’s making it more difficult to draw safe GOP districts.

The good news is the cohort of voters which have formed the traditional GOP base swung back in the 2010 and 2012 elections. If you think the Obama effect is temporary, that’s a good thing. There might be a basis to get a lot of suburban voters back into the fold, if the GOP is smart. The sad part is, the GOP is quite often far from smart. The “culture wars” have not helped the GOP in this area. In terms of gun politics, there is still a rather healthy gun culture in Chester and Bucks counties, to a lesser extent Montgomery county, and to a considerably lesser extent in Delaware County, especially the eastern parts. There is a basis through which we can form a movement. Creating a pro-gun movement for Pennsylvania’s future is going to depend greatly on mobilizing activists in this part of the state. In my experience, it is hard, but Obama is currently providing us a base from which to do it.

7 thoughts on “Great Analysis of the Philly Burb Political Dynamics”

  1. I think a GOP that respects the bill of rights would be a good place to start. Social conservatives have historically been a friend to the second amendment, and many more in inner cities than suburbs will still listen to their pastor on moral issues. There is still a part of fusionism that works. However, this move by the GOP to be “tough on crime” by violating the bill of rights and promoting interventionism abroad will see its end soon.

    Rejecting the military-security state would be a challenge for some of the suburban and minority voters who have been told and grown up with the idea that “keeping guns out” is a good idea.

  2. While I would have to strain a bit to fault the Bucks County analysis, I would caution that anything that announces it is written from “the right (or left) perspective” indicates an author who has drunk a few drafts of their camp’s Kool-Aid, and should therefore be suspected of a certain amount of wishful thinking.

      1. Not necessarily. With analyses like these, it is possible for many people to have a piece of the truth, while taken as a whole, each analysis can be wrong.

        Just because I’m writing, I’ll throw in my own variation of the analysis: The Bucks County Republican Party could not care less about ideology. It exists to distribute patronage. As such, it only cares about political offices to the extent they control patronage and favors for party faithfuls.

        The party does not care that Democrats hold the two rep districts in the lower end of the county, and in turn, the Democratic reps are willing to play ball with the distribution of patronage and favors. Again, I emphasize that ideology is not the slightest piece of the equation. The Republicans never have a serious challenger for those seats (though I suspect their sacrificial candidates believe they are serious) and never puts a lot of resources into those campaigns; just enough to be presentable.

        In the case of Mike Fitzpatrick, he had laid a good foundation for himself as a civic activist and community presence, before he ran against Tony Melio in the 141st District. When Fitzpatrick almost won that race, accidentally, he was “kicked upstairs” at the first opportunity, to keep that from happening again, and appointed County Commissioner when a vacancy had to be filled; the Republican Party did not want Democrat Melio really challenged, to upset any comfortable apple carts. From County Commissioner Fitzpatrick moved up the ladder, is a way not unlike how Mark Schweiker progressed from Middletown Township supervisor to state governor. A good-looking guy who presents wells in public.

        But, the key phrase in all of the above is: Ideology has nothing at all to do with any of it. Melio (D) was a “me too” gun-grabber par excellence, but the Republicans were perfectly happy with him in the 141st seat.

        1. Just because I’m writing, I’ll throw in my own variation of the analysis: The Bucks County Republican Party could not care less about ideology. It exists to distribute patronage. As such, it only cares about political offices to the extent they control patronage and favors for party faithfuls.

          I based most of my opinion about these pieces on the Delaware County analysis, which based on what I know is definitely historically true. My parents were Democrats in an overwhelmingly Republican County partly because they resented the corruption of the “War Board,” and Joe Dorsey’s machine politics in their local community. A lot has gone unsaid here, but at a 50,000 foot view, it’s pretty good. I assume there’s a lot of local color that has gone unsaid in the Bucks analysis as well. So I’m not coming at this as a partisan cheerleader, by any means.

          The gun issue in these parts is a pretty good example of the fact that neither party can really be counted on. But I do have more concerns about the Democrats than the Republicans, and partly because the traditional pro-gun Democrats in the rest of the state are becoming an endangered species.

      2. Just remember SOMEONE has to be right!

        I don’t agree. Mostly I think everyone is wrong. You could turn an Orwell saying, that’s pretty famous on its end here and say some animals are right, but some are more right than others. Or better yet, you could substitute wrong there.

        Because I was willing to talk to my parents and grandparents at a fairly young age about politics, I know a lot their concerns about machine corruption were completely legitimate. If you wanted a county job in those days, you had better be a good Republican. If you wanted favored you had definitely better be. It may even still be like that in Delco, I don’t know. If your town bucked the coalition, and elected Democrats, you could count on no aid from the local political establishment. We had a bridge in my town that wouldn’t get fixed for the longest time because the “wrong people,” were in control of state government, so it was said.

        When you look at it with clear eyes, it’s all kind of wrong, but it’s the framework we have to work with. Most of the times I think the best we can accomplish is to make it a bit less wrong. My parents registered as Democrats largely as a rejection of machine politics, and that was largely passed on to me. The problem I have is that all the politics around me seems to be of one variety of that or another. So what do you do?

        The choice for Delco folks was Republican machine politics or Democratic machine politics from the city. How do you best defend gun rights in that context?

        1. I’ve had a few friends who were in businesses that needed to interact with county government, and the outline of what they told me was, you have to buy tickets to every half-assed Republican dinner and other activity, just not to be a bad guy; but to be a good guy, with a shot at the cream, (e.g., contracts) will cost you several thousand a year in political donations.

          I guess my point is, it frustrates me when I see activists actually getting caught up in believing that ideology plays an important role, or any role at all, and making tactical decisions based on that assumption.

          For an old example, I remember when Harry Fawkes was county RP chairman, hearing people say that since he was a hunter, he would support one primary candidate over the other because one of them was anti-gun. Never happened. Harry never ever allowed ideology to get in the way of business, and for that matter, I’m not sure he ever allowed party to get in the way of business.

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