Politicos: Trump was catalyst for high York County voter turnout

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County Democrats and Republicans saw mixed results in last week's midterm elections, but politicos say one thing is for sure: President Donald Trump made voters from both parties flock to the polls.

The York County Office of Elections and Voter Registration reports 55.8 percent of registered voters participated in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, elections — more than a 10-point increase from the 45.3 percent who turned out in the 2014 midterms.

That's three points behind the statewide average, which came out to about 58.4 percent, according to Department of State statistics.

The office's website only lists data dating back to 2006, and this year's midterm turnout was the highest in that 12-year period in years without a presidential election.

The Wolf campaign Deputy Communications Director Karissa Hand cheers returns during the Election Night Party at the Bond in York City Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Tom Wolf defeated challenger Scott Wagner to win a second term. Bill Kalina photo

No further data: County spokesman Mark Walters said the county doesn't have earlier voter turnout data to confirm whether it was a record, citing state law that only requires counties to hold on to turnout data for 22 months after an election.

DOS spokeswoman Wanda Murren said it would take weeks for the department to excavate earlier data. The York Dispatch has filed a Right-To-Know Law request for voter turnout data dating back to 1968.

Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee.

Trump's role: Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee, mostly attributed the surge in voter participation to Trump's involvement in the midterms.

Midterm elections historically have lower voter participation than presidential elections: the 2016 presidential elections attracted 70.8 percent of voters in York County and 70.1 percent statewide.

More:Dem and Republican leaders: Midterm enthusiasm high in York County

 "Typically, midterms are run on local issues and with local personalities, incumbents and so forth," Piccola said. "The president nationalized the midterm elections."

Trump campaigned heavily on behalf of Republican congressional candidates nationwide, including here in Pennsylvania. Piccola said such campaigning drew more interest and inspired more people to vote.

The president gave vocal support to Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta and gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner.

Vice President Mike Pence also campaigned for Republican Reps. Scott Perry and Lloyd Smucker in their 10th and 11th District races, respectively.

More:Pence stumps for Perry, Smucker in visit to Lancaster

But Democrats received their own helping hands, with former President Barack Obama stumping for Gov. Tom Wolf and former Vice President Joe Biden endorsing George Scott in the 10th District race.

The high-level politicians' influence had mixed results in York County.

While Wolf and Casey won their re-election efforts, Republicans swept the remaining  races locally, with the exception of state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, who was unopposed in her re-election bid. 

Piccola said regardless of the outcome, Trump played a dominating role in bringing the elections into the spotlight by "making it quite clear the election was important for the advancement of his agenda."

That agenda, which Piccola said touts border security, tax cuts and regulatory reform, appealed to the "overwhelmingly Republican" county, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 151,270 to 103,669.

York County Democratic Party Chairman Chad Baker prior to the York County Young Democrats' democratic debates for three contested Democratic primary races at Marketview Arts in York City, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Trump's role in Democratic campaigns: But along the campaign trail, the Democratic Party used a different take on Trump's agenda to garner votes — a take that was rooted in opposition to the president since the 2016 elections.

"This year, turnout across the country was up, and I think that was based on the current administration and whether the candidates were supporting or resisting it," said Chad Baker, chairman of the York County Democratic Party.

He added midterm elections are always important, but he agreed Trump shed more light on them than previous presidents, which could've helped boost turnout.

Another aspect of the race that stuck out, Baker said, was that the local Democratic Party gave voters options, putting seven candidates on the Democratic ticket to challenge Republican incumbents, some of whom have been in office for decades.

"When it's not a competitive race, you're not turning people out," he said.

More:Trump, social media drive surge in Pennsylvania's young voter ranks

But despite Democrats losing all of their contested state House and Senate races in the county, Baker noted the party made progress compared with previous midterm elections.

"From top to bottom, we had a solid slate of candidates who were challenging incumbents on the issues," he said. "Don't see this election as a failure. This is about a movement, not a moment."

In this file photo, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College Dr. G. Terry Madonna leads a political discussion, 2016: Presidential Politics in the Nation and State, at Yorktowne Hotel in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

'One word: Trump': G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Center for Politics and Public Affairs in Lancaster, agreed with the two party leaders about Trump's influence.

"There isn't any other way to reach a conclusion," Madonna said. "This was all driven by one word: Trump. The turnout went up everywhere; this was an election heavily driven on a referendum on the president."

The analyst and pollster pointed out York County saw two of its own run for governor, but he said that "didn't play a significant role" compared to Trump.

Echoing Piccola's point about Trump's campaigning, Madonna added, 'There's no doubt the president exercised an initiative in the likes of which we had not seen. He went all out. You saw the president everywhere, and the coverage was beyond extensive."

To continue to boost election enthusiasm, and more importantly voter participation, Baker said the Democratic Party plans to continue heavy voter outreach, place as many candidates on the ticket as possible and hold incumbents accountable.

Piccola emphasized continued interest from high-level politicians and heavy campaigning to keep up the Republican majority at the polls locally.

But Madonna said "it's too early to say" whether the enthusiasm will hold for future elections.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.