Philly isn’t why Biden won Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania probably isn’t why Biden won the White House.
Sorry, Philly. And sorry, Pennsylvania. But we weren’t the ones to decide the presidency.
And sorry, Pennsylvania.
But it doesn’t look as if we were the ones to decide the presidency.
It’s not that we weren’t key. We were — in the same way every vote and every state is key. Voters in the city and state helped Joe Biden win the presidency the same way those in New Jersey or California did.
But the narrative of our pivotal role? That’s not quite true.
Yes, it was the release of results from 3,000 Philadelphia mail ballots Saturday morning that gave Biden just enough of a margin for news organizations to call Pennsylvania, and the race.
But calling the race hinges on when votes are counted and released. The days-long counting of votes doesn’t change the final result. It just reveals it.
» READ MORE: How Joe Biden won Pennsylvania
Consider that if Pennsylvania had its results released Tuesday — which could have happened had state law been changed to allow mail ballots to be counted before Election Day — it would likely be another state we were waiting on all week to declare a winner. Or if Philadelphia had gotten all its ballots counted Tuesday but Allegheny County was slower, it would be Pittsburgh getting all the attention. But none of that would change the ultimate result.
As it turns out, Philadelphia will likely help Biden less than it helped Hillary Clinton in 2016. And Pennsylvania’s vote won’t have tipped Biden over the Electoral College finish line.
Pennsylvania probably wasn’t the ‘tipping-point state.’ We’re just left of Wisconsin.
To get to 270 Electoral College votes — the magic number — candidates don’t focus on the “safe” places.
If you arrange all the states in order from the most heavily Democratic to most heavily Republican — with places such as Vermont and Massachusetts at one end and West Virginia and North Dakota at the other — it’s the states in the middle that are pivotal.
That’s why they’re called battleground states.
And the thing is, similar places tend to move in concert. When one state shifts to the left or right in an election, so do states that are like it. That goes for places within states, too — when big suburbs move left in one state, similar big suburbs do the same in others.
It doesn’t look as if it’s Pennsylvania.
As of Tuesday, Biden had won about 50.36% of the two-party vote in Pennsylvania, 50.32% in Wisconsin, and 50.22% in Arizona. That means Pennsylvania is just barely to the left of Wisconsin.
So if the results had trended just slightly more Republican, Biden would still win Pennsylvania but have lost Wisconsin.
And how many electoral votes does Biden have with Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin?
That means it’s Wisconsin, with its 10 votes, that puts Biden over the edge. It might even end up being Arizona, depending on the final numbers.
Of course, not every vote has been counted yet. It’s possible — just very unlikely — that the remaining votes move Pennsylvania enough to the right, or Wisconsin enough to the left, for them to change positions. If that does happen, then Pennsylvania will have been indeed the tipping-point state.
But if anything, Pennsylvania is likely to tick a little more toward Biden as the final votes are tallied.
Philadelphia isn’t how Biden won Pennsylvania: It’s about margins
Winning Pennsylvania is different from winning the Electoral College: It’s all about the popular vote in the state. Even though we talk about counties going one way or the other, the reality is a candidate has to win the most votes statewide, not by piecing together enough wins in individual counties. So while it doesn’t matter how blue New Jersey is for the Electoral College, it matters a lot how blue Philadelphia is — along with how many people vote — when it comes to winning Pennsylvania.
Philadelphia had a ton of votes for Biden. More than 571,000. But the city always has a ton of votes for Democrats.
And it looks as if Philadelphia will actually help Biden less than it did Clinton in 2016.
Four years ago, the city made up just under 20% of the state’s votes for Clinton. It currently makes up about 17% of Pennsylvania’s votes for Biden.
So yes, Philadelphia’s votes were crucial for Biden. But look at the margins.
First, there’s how many votes each county gave to Biden vs. Trump. For Philadelphia, it’s a net of about 446,000 votes for Biden (574,000 votes for Biden minus 128,000 votes for Trump).
That’s a lot, yes, but then we have to compare that with 2016. After all, the basic political map is pretty set. You know Philadelphia and its suburbs will go blue; you know rural counties will go red. The question is by how much, and how they all stack up.
Clinton received a net 475,000 votes from Philadelphia (584,000 for Clinton minus 109,000 for Trump.)
That means Philadelphia still turned in a ton of votes for Biden — but it was actually about 30,000 fewer net votes than the city gave to Clinton. Those numbers will change as Philadelphia counts its remaining votes, so the gap will shrink, and Biden may ultimately actually receive slightly more net votes than Clinton, but it’s nothing like the huge changes we saw elsewhere in the state.
So what made the big difference this year?
Philadelphia’s suburban collar counties, along with Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and its suburbs, significantly increased their net votes for Biden this year compared with their net votes for Clinton in 2016.
Together, Montgomery, Allegheny, Chester, Delaware, and Bucks Counties gave Biden an additional 129,000 net votes this year over what they gave Clinton.