Although Democrat voters have long outnumbered Republicans in Pennsylvania, the GOP recently cut that lead by about half a million voters according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In 2012, there were about 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans or about 13% of the electorate. This year, that number has dropped by 6 percentage points to about 540,000 voters.
The GOP has seen growth "in virtually every county" that doesn't have or neighbor a major city. In addition, most new Republicans are former Democrats or independents who were likely voting for GOP candidates before switching parties, and an increasing number of voters are registering as independent or with a third party.
That means that despite the Republican Party's gains, this might not translate to added success in the upcoming midterm elections.
Lara Putnam, a University of Pittsburgh history professor who has studied elections in the state, said that changing affiliation "tends to be the end of a journey to a different party rather than the beginning. But at the same time, the people who bother to change — because they're more attuned to politics — can be the canary in the coal mine indicators of broader trends."
George Rattay, chair of the Fayette County Democratic Party, noted that "young men and women going to college … didn't stay in the area," as one reason for the declining numbers of Democrats in the region.
Republican County Commissioner Dave Lohr said that Fayette is "more on the conservative side than moderate" now after the majority voted for Pennsylvania's Democrat Sen. Bob Casey in 2012 and the state's Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf in 2014.
Allegheny County GOP Chair Sam DeMarco noted that Republicans have "always been at a disadvantage, because typically every year you get about 125,000 youngsters who graduate [statewide] from high school, and they register to vote, and many register as Democrats."
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