Nowhere else in Pennsylvania saw more Democratic voters switch their party allegiances to Republican than in Westmoreland County during the first week of January.
From Jan. 4 through Jan. 11, there were 189 registered Democrats who became members of the GOP, according to figures from the Pennsylvania Department of State. That continues a two-decade change in the county’s political identity, but it also is in direct opposition to what occurred throughout the state last week that saw more Republicans relinquish their party registration to the left.
Westmoreland saw 48 Republicans switch their party allegiances to Democrat during the same week.
Meanwhile, party registration changes throughout Pennsylvania favored Democrats during the same seven-day news cycle dominated by political upheaval in Washington, D.C., in which nearly 150 Republican members of Congress objected to the state’s election results and thousands of supporters for President Trump violently stormed the U.S. Capitol. Five people died.
“It’s weird, but maybe not so weird given the trends we’ve had over the last number of years,” said former county Democratic Committee vice chairman Paul Adams.
The associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg said the number of party switches filed last week was likely a combination of the ongoing demographic trends in the county along with what he called an increased level of political tribalism sparked by Trump.
Long the minority party in the county, Republicans slowly saw their ranks grow over the past two decades. In 2019, the GOP overtook Democrats in the number of registered voters. According to state statistics, since 2008 more than 23,000 Democrats switched their registrations to the GOP. During that same time period, nearly 6,300 registered Republicans signed up with the Democrats.
County Republican Committee Chairman Bill Bretz said there was no organized effort last week seeking Democrats to convert to the GOP.
“I’m sure there were a number of people who wanted to change before the election but didn’t have time. And I’m sure there were a number of people who were turned off by the rhetoric last week in Washington,” Bretz said.
Throughout Pennsylvania, Democrats saw fewer defections as more voters in counties surrounding Philadelphia bolted the from the GOP.
Terry Madonna, a senior fellow for political science at Millersville University, said it’s not a surprise party registration changes in Westmoreland bucked what occurred throughout the state last week.
He said it’s too early to know whether last week’s events in Washington will lead to any future voter registration shifts among county voters toward the Democrats. But, he suggested Trump’s final days in office could impact the state’s voter rolls throughout 2021.
Last week’s party switches that saw more than 1,460 Republican voters register as Democrats could be the fallout of the political climate in Washington. Another nearly 1,200 Democrats switch to the GOP during the first full week of January.
“I don’t think you can rule out there are Republicans who are unhappy with Trump, and I don’t don’t think there is doubt this will cost Trump support. I think it’s directly related to Trump,” Madonna said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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