Two weeks ago, Lancaster Republicans were celebrating that they had added 5,000 voters to their registration lead over Democrats in the county since the June primary.
But that short-term gain doesn’t erase the fact that the GOP advantage in the county has been falling steadily for over two decades.
And it seems that an incumbent president who is incredibly popular among Republicans is not enough to reverse that trend, according to voter registration data released Tuesday by the Lancaster County Board of Elections.
Republicans now have a narrower margin over Democrats than they did ahead of the 2016 presidential election, as county Democrats outpaced Republicans in gaining new voters over the past four years.
In Nov. 2016, there were 174,365 registered Republicans in Lancaster County, which was 66,193 more than Democrats’ 108,172 voters, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
When Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, Republicans represented 51.95% of the county’s 335,791 voters. Democrats’ share stood at 32.21%, giving the GOP a 19.72 point advantage.
Ahead of next Tuesday's election the GOP advantage is down to 18.63 points, with Republicans now representing 51.18% of the county electorate and Democrats representing 32.55%.
Since 2016, Republicans increased their ranks by 6,968 voters to 181,333. Democrats gained slightly more, 7,160, for a total of 115,332. The gap between the two is now 66,001 voters.
The Republican advantage in Lancaster County has been declining steadily for the past two decades. In 1998, 62% of Lancaster County voters were registered as Republicans, with about 25% registered as Democrats, according to the Department of State.
“I think that the last four years have made some Republicans feel like the Republican Party has taken a turn that they just can't live with,” Diane Topakian, chair of the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, said. “People who have a Republican value system Probably feel pretty alienated from the Trump-ist Republican Party. Maybe people just aren’t registering as Republicans anymore. I’m curious what the independent numbers are like.”
The number of independents -- voters affiliated with third parties or none at all -- is also up slightly from 2016. In the last presidential election, these voters represented 15.84% of the county’s electorate. That figure stands at 16.72% today.
Kirk Radanovic, chair of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, again highlighted the Republicans new voter registration advantage over the Democrats since the June 2 primary, although there was no countywide disputed race for Republicans to vote in prior to June 2.
“It's clear that momentum is on our side and that Lancaster County will play a pivotal role in the re-election of President Donald J. Trump,” Radanovic said in an email. “For generations, Lancastrians have benefitted from Republican policy and leadership, every year our values win at the ballot box.”
But Radanovic again avoided questions about his party’s declining advantage.
Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin & Marshall College, said population growth and immigration into the county is one of the major contributing factors to the shift.
Yost said newcomers moving into Lancaster city and its suburbs tend to be more diverse in background and ideology.
"As long as Lancaster County continues its pattern of grown and is an attractive place for people to live, I think these trends will continue,” he said.
He pointed to other counties in southeast Pennsylvania that have followed similar trends over the years, including Chester County, which recently saw Democrats make big gains in local offices.
“Those areas have started to move through change and growth to be Democrat communities, and I think Lancaster is going to follow that route,” Yost said, adding that he is sure the Republican Party will adapt to these changes, but how much and how fast will depend on how legislative and congressional districts are redrawn in 2022.