Democrats may still outnumber Republicans in Luzerne County, but the GOP is steadily gaining ground.
The county picked up 779 more registered voters since the November general election, but the number of Democrats still declined, new statistics from the county’s election office show.
The total voter count is 205,536, compared to 204,757 in November.
The changes that occurred since last fall:
• Republicans gained 509 voters, for a new total of 74,911.
• Democrats lost 228, bringing the party’s total to 106,328.
• Voters with other affiliations or no affiliation increased 498, to a new total 24,297.
Widening the analysis scope, the county now has 10,877 more voters than it did in the 2016 primary, which was a presidential election year.
Since then, Republicans have gained 6,308 voters, compared to 841 new Democrats. Meanwhile, the unaffiliated/other affiliation category increased by 3,728.
Going back another two years, to the 2014 primary, the difference in party affiliation is more striking. Since then, the number of Republicans has increased by 11,000, while registered Democrats have decreased 4,905. The unaffiliated/other affiliation is 3,600 higher today.
Periodic snapshot readings are helpful because the composition of the voter pool is constantly changing as voters die, move, switch parties and submit new registrations.
Wilkes University political science professor Tom Baldino said the statistics indicate a steady increase in Republicans and gradual decline in Democrats.
“These numbers don’t surprise me,” Baldino said.
Some of the Democratic loss likely stems from a decrease in union jobs here and nationally, he said.
“Union workers have historically supported Democratic candidates, although some unions have switched over to Republicans more recently,” Baldino said.
Many World War II generation voters also were more loyal to the Democratic party for delivering Social Security and Medicare, he said.
More voters in the emerging generation of older Americans appear to believe Republicans are “somehow better able to protect” Social Security and Medicare, he said. Conservative views on social issues among older voters also have been a factor in the switch.
Areas of western Pennsylvania — excluding Pittsburgh — have a similar demographic as Northeastern Pennsylvania and have been trending Republican for 20 years, said the professor.
“I think Luzerne County is catching up. Western Pennsylvania used to be solidly Democratic, and now it’s pretty much red,” Baldino said.
At the same time, he noted the metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and much of southeastern Pennsylvania are gaining in population and remain dominantly Democratic and more liberal.
He also expects President Donald Trump to seek re-election, which could continue to impact Republican registration positively or negatively.
“We’ll see how it plays out in 2020. It will be interesting to see how many older voters in this area are still going to support a Trump candidacy,” he said.
Nearly half, or 382, of the new registrations since November involved county residents who are 18 or will turn 18 by the May 15 primary, said county Election Director Marisa Crispell.
The county election bureau launched an outreach program in February offering to distribute voter registration applications and informational fliers to all interested high schools.
Contrary to the overall statistics, 173 of these new voters registered as Democrats, while 132 signed up as Republicans. The remaining 77 chose other affiliations or none, Crispell said.
Baldino also observed that county Democrats still hold a sizable if declining lead of 31,417 over Republicans. In 2004, Democrats outnumbered the GOP by nearly 45,000, according to statistics.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.