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Republican voters 'outperformed' Dems at polls in Pa.

| Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, 5:48 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
PA GOP committee member Jill Cooper celebrates Trump's presidential election win inside the GOP Victory Center in Murrysville, located at the Shop N' Save Plaza, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. Cooper is also the chair for the victory center.

More than three-quarters of Pennsylvania's registered Republicans voted in the November election, neutralizing Democrats' sizable registration edge to propel Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey to narrow victories, state records show.

"Republicans simply outperformed Democrats at the polls," said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Politics and Public Affairs.

Department of State data show that nearly 2.6 million of Pennsylvania's 3.3 million registered Republicans voted on Nov. 8, a turnout of 77.8 percent. Seventeen counties had a GOP turnout of more than 80 percent.

At the same time, 2.9 million of the state's 4.2 million Democrats cast ballots for a turnout of 69.9 percent. Montgomery County had the highest Democratic turnout, at about 78 percent.

Independents and voters from other parties were less interested in voting, with 58.6 percent of them turning out to the polls.

Overall, 71.3 percent of Pennsylvania's registered voters cast ballots. That's the highest turnout since 82.8 percent of the state's voters went to the polls in 1992, when Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush.

The Department of State finalized the turnout numbers this week after collecting voter-participation data from counties. The state uses the data to maintain its list of registered voters — voters who have not gone to the polls for five years receive notices indicating that they must contact their county's election office or vote in at least one of the next two federal elections (they're held in even-numbered years) to keep their voter registrations active.

Democrats could find the turnout numbers particularly troubling given the narrow margins by which they lost the state's most pivotal races. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes, and Toomey beat Katie McGinty in the U.S. Senate race by 86,690 votes.

"In such a close race, the little things matter so much. Another percentage point or two here or there could have made a difference," said Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

The enthusiasm gap wasn't unique to Pennsylvania, according to Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman Preston Maddock.

"What's true of Pennsylvania is true of the election broadly. What we saw here also happened in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio," Maddock said. "I don't think anyone, not even Trump's campaign, expected voters — particularly white voters without college degrees from more rural areas — to turn out at the rate they did. Trump was able to mobilize a higher share of his supporters than anyone anticipated. I don't think anyone had an accurate read on the level of enthusiasm of Trump voters and their ability to turn out to the polls."

Republican turnout was at least 10 percentage points higher than Democratic turnout in 27 counties. Eighteen of the counties are home to fewer than 100,000 people.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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