Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Elections in Pennsylvania"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Book Review: "Elections in Pennsylvania"

This book by Jack Treadway provides an excellent portrayal of how Pennsylvania’s history and politics are intertwined. It further shows how political trends help shape this history, and how these trends continue and reemerge.

Readers note how Pennsylvania, the second largest state with the country’s third and seventh largest cities in 1900, had its most 20th century population growth primarily along the New York border while the rest of the state’s growth stagnated. Of interest, the growth of suburbia fairly stabilized the proportional makeup of the state as the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas were 47% of the state’s population in 1900 and 51% in 2000.

The 20th century saw Pennsylvania change from a state whose economy was based upon the coal and steel industries, to one where manufacturing fell from 30% of the workforce as late as 1970 to 16% in 2000, into a state where service industries now dominate with 34% of the workforce in 2000. This has also created wage shifts as there have been decreases in higher paid manufacturing jobs as lower paid service jobs have increased.

The 20th century also saw the rise of the Democratic Party from one where its urban Democratic leaders cut deals for campaign inactivity in return for patronage jobs from Republican office holders to one in which statewide Republican domination yielded to competition and ultimately to where Democrats surpassed Republicans in voter registration in addition to establishing themselves as the dominant urban party while Republicans dominated suburban and rural voting communities.

The 19th century saw the rise of the Republican political machinery as led by Simon Cameron in the 1860s and 1870s and then Matthew Quay in the 1880s and 1890s. Voter registry laws led to ease of registering voters of the dominant party and ease of striking voters of the challenging party. The Republican one party dominance led to scandals as when it was discovered interest on the state’s bank accounts were going to Quay instead of the state. Quay was acquitted of charges yet was refused by the U.S. Senate to be seated as a member of the Senate. Quay resolved the matter by bribing state legislators to elect him back into the U.S. Senate. Boies Penrose took over leadership of the Republican Party following Quay’s death in 1903. Voter fraud was widespread with estimates there may have been 50,000 to 80,000 fake names on the voter registration lists as well as commonplace multiple voting by single voters. Penrose was a strong leader although his death in 1921 left the party without a prepared successor which partially led to a weakening of the state Republican Party from then on.

While Republican Party dominance decreased during the 20th century, the author notes that both parties lost influence from the 1960s on. Voters have become more independent in registration and in voting patterns since. The author relates this to historical patterns of independent voting that existed even during times of one party machine dominance.

While Democrats have achieved more registered voters than those registered Republican, the author notes that Republicans have higher turn outs at elections than Democrats. Berwood Yost estimates Pennsylvania actually is a state with a 250,000 Republican statewide voting advantage despite official records giving the registration edge to Democrats. Ticket splitting affects elections, as the author observes that about 20% of voters vote for different parties when voting for President and then U.S. Congress.

As for state legislative elections, the author observes that these elections have become less competitive from 1892 through 1972, except for an increase in competitive elections during the 1930s. Further study notes that legislative elections during the 1970s through the 1990s remained relatively uncompetitive. This is attributed to incumbents being more apt to seek reelection and then enjoying high reelection rates. Also, it is noted that the victory margins for legislative incumbents have tended to increase during the 1980s and 1990s. Thus even when there were significant shifts in party voting patterns in legislative elections by political party, these large victory margins, coupled with both parties tending to have similar numbers of seats at risk, have not resulted in significant changes in legislative representation by party. Thus it is noted that neither Democrat Casey’s 68% of the vote for Governor in 1990 nor Republican Ridge’s 65% of the vote for Governor in 1998 translated into legislative victories for their party’s candidates. Democrats increased their number of Democratic state legislators by four in 1990 and while Republicans found themselves reducing their number of legislators by one in 1998. The author believes there is a maximum of 60 out of 203 state legislative seats where either party has a chance of winning.

General Assembly members in 1901 were more apt to have been people who rose up the political ranks having served in another elective office than General Assembly members in 1995. The author also finds legislators had more partisan backgrounds in 1995 than in 1901. State Senators held their positions the longest, on average, during the 20th century than any other elected position, followed by members of Congress.

This is an excellent descriptive and analytical book that allows readers to learn the results of Pennsylvania’s elections. It is highly recommended for students of Pennsylvania politics.


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