Election 2020, MAP, Writing

Five Straight and Counting

In 2016, Westmoreland County and Pennsylvania finally got on the same page

by Megan Swift

Until Republican Donald Trump came along four years ago, Pennsylvania voters as a whole were going in an opposite direction from the way its citizens in Westmoreland County were casting their ballots for president.

The 2016 election marked the fifth straight time that the Republican presidential candidate prevailed in Westmoreland County. The last Democrat to win the county: Bill Clinton in 1996.

“What it always comes down to in Pennsylvania is voter turnout,”

Mike Landsberg

Compare that to Pennsylvania. Trump’s victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton four years ago marked the first time that the state voted for a Republican since 1988, when George H.W. Bush prevailed.

“What it always comes down to in Pennsylvania is voter turnout,” said Mike Landsberg, who has been teaching social studies at Franklin Regional Senior High School in Westmoreland County for over 20 years. “In 2016, the phenomenon that is Trump appealed to a certain type of voter that didn’t always vote in Pennsylvania.”

Landsberg argued that for some people, in 2016 it was a vote against the system rather than a vote for Trump.

Landsberg, left, on a high school field trip with students to Washington, D.C.

Here’s a comparative look at the past five elections:

  • In 2016, Trump won with 63.5% in Westmoreland County, and he won overall in Pennsylvania with 48.18%.
  • In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney won with 61.29% in Westmoreland County, but Democratic President Barack Obama, in his reelection bid, won overall in Pennsylvania with 51.97%.
  • In 2008, Republican John McCain won with 57.83% in Westmoreland County, while the Obama won overall in Pennsylvania with 54.47%.
  • In 2004, Republican President George W. Bush won with 56.01% in Westmoreland County in his reelection bid, while Democrat John Kerry won overall in Pennsylvania with 50.92%.
  • In 2000, Bush won with 51.60% in Westmoreland County. Democrat Al Gore won overall in Pennsylvania with 50.60%.

Landsberg said he believes Westmoreland will stick with Trump in 2020, but Democrat Joe Biden will win overall in Pennsylvania in a “very close” race.

“Trump appeals to people who are jaded against Washington and jaded against the [political] system in general,” Landsberg said. “I hate to say it, but at the end of the day elections really aren’t won or lost based on who the most qualified candidate is.”

Landsberg said people vote for the candidate they would most likely “sit down and have a beer” with.

He said the Democratic Party put up the wrong candidate to face Trump in 2016. Since Hillary Clinton “lacked charisma,” Landsberg said, some people voted for Trump simply because they “couldn’t stand her.”

Even though he didn’t personally support Biden as the Democratic nominee this year, Landsberg said the former vice president is the best candidate in terms of “electability” and ability to defeat Trump. He noted that many western Pennsylvania Democrats are conservative on certain social issues – much the way the late popular former Gov. Robert P. Casey, father of the state’s current senior senator, dominated state politics in the 1980s and 1990s.

While Biden supports abortion rights, unlike the elder Casey, who was vehemently anti-abortion, Biden shares other moderate views of the former governor, in addition to being from the same hometown.

“I think Biden will easily carry Pittsburgh because he fits the Casey Democrat stereotype,” Landsberg said. “That blue-collar mentality is still very much Pittsburgh, and I think Biden coming out of Scranton will very much appeal to that.”

Landsberg said the outcome of the overall election will be most influenced by where the country is economically and where the country is with the coronavirus pandemic in November.

“A crisis can help or hurt an incumbent, and it depends on how the people perceive the incumbent dealing with that crisis,” Landsberg said. “Our natural tendency as a country politically is to rally behind the president in trying times, which actually helps Trump, believe it or not.”

Landsberg said that Trump’s denial initially that COVID-19 was an issue when scientists were telling him otherwise will help Biden’s chances.

“I think it will come down to the same states that the last few elections have come down to – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida,” Landsberg said. “Every essence of my being hopes that Biden wins in November.”


  • Megan Swift

    Megan Swift is a print/digital journalism major in Penn State's Schreyer Honors College. She minors in creative writing and entrepreneurial innovation.

April 22, 2020

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Megan Swift

Megan Swift Megan Swift is a print/digital journalism major in Penn State's Schreyer Honors College. She minors in creative writing and entrepreneurial innovation.

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