Voter turnout in Philadelphia's once solidly red neighboring counties bucked a national trend, and that was a major reason Democrat Tom Wolf won the governor's race convincingly, according to analysts and a review of voter data.

Though across the country, turnout hit its lowest level in more than 70 years - with only 36 percent of eligible voters bothering to show up - closer to half of the voters turned out in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties.

Wolf won comfortably in part because he ran so well in those four counties. He also won very big in Philadelphia, but turnout there was lower.

Opinions vary as to what motivated voters in the suburbs.

"Other than we have the most responsible voters in the entire commonwealth in Pennsylvania?" joked Republican John McBlain, a Delaware County councilman.

Among the reasons local politicians and analysts cited were competitive state legislative races, an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort from both parties, and a passionate response to education as an issue in the gubernatorial race.

Chester and Delaware Counties reported more than 46 percent voter turnout, and Montgomery County reported 48.2 percent. The most recent counts do not include absentee ballots.

Although better than the state average, the county figures were down from the 2010 off-year election, when Republican Pat Toomey defeated Democrat Joe Sestak for the U.S. Senate seat and Republican Tom Corbett won the governor's race. Turnout in Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties was better than 50 percent.

Philadelphia's turnout this time around, 36.6 percent of the more than one million registered voters, didn't match that of its neighbors.

"Here in Philadelphia, usually when you have the state reps running and we're a heavily Democratic city, it's almost a shoo-in," said Gregory Irving, the city's voter registration administrator. "Even the elected officials don't go out and pound the pavement."

Statewide, 41.9 percent of 8.2 million eligible voters participated in the Nov. 4 election, said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Department of State.

Across the Delaware River, New Jersey reported 32.6 percent voter turnout out of 5.5 million voters. Camden County fared worse than the state average, with 31.2 percent. Burlington County reported a 41.6 percent turnout and Gloucester County, 38 percent.

Nationally, about 36 percent of registered voters participated on Election Day, according to estimates from the U.S. Election Project.

Many analysts saw Southeastern Pennsylvania as the battleground in the gubernatorial race. Representatives from both parties said the high stakes drove aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts for Wolf and Corbett.

In Montgomery County, Democrats knocked on doors, put up door hangers, and made robo-calls.

"There's nothing that beats hard work," said Marcel Groen, chairman of the county Democratic Committee. "It sounds trite, but it's still the only way you can do it."

Though there was a dearth of contested races in the region, Delaware County hosted two competitive state legislative races: one to replace retiring Rep. Nicholas Micozzie, and the other for the seat held by outgoing Sen. Ted Erickson.

"Both of those races, there was network television commercial advertising, cable television advertising, more mailings than anyone cared to get," McBlain said. "I would imagine that drove voter turnout up pretty significantly."

Republicans Jamie Santora and Thomas McGarrigle won the House and Senate races, respectively.

On the campaign trail, Wolf pushed education as a major part of his platform, and several people said that particularly resonated with voters in this region.

Philadelphia's school-funding issues might have hurt Corbett in the suburbs, said Wes Leckrone, a Widener University political science professor.

"It didn't seem right to kind of moderate suburbanites that the Philadelphia schools received such cuts," he said.

Cuts to other districts may have played a role, as well, said John Cordisco, Bucks County Democratic Committee chairman.

"It affected kids and affected property taxes," he said.

Members of the major parties said turnout in the southeastern counties exceeded expectations, but having fewer than half of the eligible people voting isn't anything to celebrate, Leckrone said.

So many legislative and congressional districts are redrawn to give one party or the other an overwhelming demographic advantage, he said, that it isn't hard to understand why many voters don't bother.

"It's just not rational to vote in a world of competing things for your time," he said. "It doesn't make sense to show up, because at the end of the day, the election's already decided."

610-313-8114 @jasmlaughlin