“This election is Scranton vs Park Avenue.”
As someone who was also born in Scranton, Biden’s campaign mantra appealed to me.
Having lived in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as grown up in the more rural and later suburb parts of the state, I see Scranton as the emotional heart of the state and maybe the country. It’s working class and resilient: Scranton recovered from the post-industrial era of coal mining to develop a more modern persona now dominated by healthcare and manufacturing, finding contemporary fame/infamy as where the US Office is set. It’s part of the rustbelt and represents “real America”.
But in all the places that message needed to resonate – it didn’t.
Pennsylvania is a microcosm of the States as a whole. The East Coast and West Coast are dominated by New York on one side and California on the other. They are traditional liberal bastons with many of the states in between more likely to lean right or swing in political allegiance.
It’s the same in PA, with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on either end who always solidly vote blue and the rest much more likely to vote Republican. The more rural places are unwinnable and will sit solidly in the Trump camp.
My prediction was that if Biden could win places that sat outside cities on the cusp of being between the urban and rural populations, he could carry that the state and then the election. This includes places like Westmoreland County outside Pittsburgh and Luzerne County which is close to Scranton. Luzurne County went Republican for the first time since 1988 during the last election. That’s what the Scranton narrative was meant to appeal to. Those voters who want a normal person like “nice-guy Joe”, not a politician.
Part of the shift in these places is because a different constituency is voting for Trump than might traditionally vote Republican. These are the people I grew up around, who typically say they don’t do politics and that all politicians are the same. Given the choice between a sitting President and a former Vice President, it seems many of them still believed in Trump’s background as a businessman, and from outside politics, then they did for Biden’s attempt.
The other thing Trump did is leave some traditional Republicans homeless; not many and certainly not enough to swing an election. The centre-right people who would have voted for Romney or Bush and who say that they value respect for the office of the Presidency (or the White House, or women) didn’t vote for him last time and didn’t again. The polls showed that some suburban women did switch their votes away from Trump, though clearly not enough for a decisive pull in the other direction.
This is why, in the run-up to the election, when asked I responded that Trump would win. Part of this was because I couldn’t face another morning-after as I had with Hillary and because, until October, I had never spoken to anyone who had voted Trump the first time that wouldn’t be doing so again.
I finally switched my opinion, thanks to the overwhelming lead by Biden in the polls and due to the two narratives that dominated this election. It wasn’t those that the candidates created for themselves: COVID-19 and the BLM protests took over coverage in the months preceding voting. The way these played out, they both seemed to disadvantage the sitting President.
As of writing this, there is no declared winner. Historic numbers voted by mail and we will need to wait and see if this changes the course of who the next President is.
Instead of writing predictions about what Trump/Biden’s clear victory means for the future – I’m left mulling over how both these campaigns were taken out of the hands of the professional campaigners and instead led by global movements. In an election dominated by other forces, the pandemic and a mass movement for social justice, neither of these now-established politicians came out ahead. Campaign slogans don’t seem to be enough to change people’s minds.