Newly registered least likely to vote

The voting wards surrounding Temple’s campus have seen a surge in the number of newly registered voters, but their turn out today isn’t guaranteed.

The number of newly registered voters in the wards surrounding Temple surpasses the totals both city and statewide, according to an analysis of current Philadelphia voter registration data.

Since the April 22 primary, more than 13 percent of eligible voters in the 20th Ward were registered – nearly double the margin of increase citywide and nearly triple the margin statewide. Increases in the 32nd Ward were slightly lower than the city average of 7.92 percent, but higher than the statewide average of 4.62 percent.

Nearly all of those new registrants were added after Sen. Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination June 4.

The 20th Ward reaches north from Master Street to Susquehanna Avenue and east from Broad Street to Sixth Street. The 32nd Ward stretches west from Broad Street into the Strawberry Mansion section of the city, sandwiched between Susquehanna Avenue and Oxford Street.

Like many Democratic presidential candidates before him, Obama will depend heavily on voter turnout today in wards throughout the city, like Temple’s 20th and 32nd – largely African-American wards with traditionally low turnout – in hopes of winning Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes.

Many see turnout in these wards changing in this election cycle, leading to longer lines at local polling places accustomed to turnouts hovering around 50 percent.

“African-Americans have been a solid Democratic constituency for a long time,” said political science associate professor Michael Hagen. “But they seem poised to vote for Obama in numbers even beyond those than other Democratic candidates in the past.”

Hagen said he thinks the Obama campaign “learned a bit of a lesson” from loss during the primary to Sen. Hillary Clinton and has sought to build a bigger organization in the city to turn out the vote. In the Democratic primary, voter turnout in the 20th and 32nd wards was between eight and 10 points below the city average of 53.77 percent, respectively. Both wards voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

Obama won a modest 64 percent of the city’s vote and lost Pennsylvania in the primary to Clinton, mostly because of lukewarm turnout in city strongholds and losses in South and Northeast Philadelphia.

One of the factors that could work against the Democratic Party today and discourage new Democrats is recent national and state polls that are predicting large Obama victories, Hagen said.

A recent poll sponsored by Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs gave Obama a nine-point advantage over Sen. John McCain among likely voters in the state.

“The Obama campaign is fighting against this, trying to persuade everybody that it’s not over yet,” Hagen said. “McCain has campaigned pretty vigorously [in Pennsylvania] and has done what he can to turn things around.”

The city’s 20th and 32nd wards hold 25,618 voters, about 2.3 percent of the city’s electorate. City voting officials, though, warn the registration numbers are bloated by inactive voters, like Temple students who moved but have yet to change their voting addresses.

There are approximately 120,000 inactive voters in the city, said Bob Lee, voter registration administrator for the Philadelphia County Board of Elections.

“For the most part, they’re gone, and we’re just waiting for the federally described cancellation period,” Lee said. “Voters around Temple may be long gone.”

Hagen said there are reasons to be “less confident” in this cycle’s presidential polls, such as uncertainty over the turnout of the large number of new voters and “a number of people not telling pollsters what they’re really going to do.”

Pollsters, who make phone calls to ask citizens whom they’ll vote for on Election Day, are also failing to reach a number of potential voters who exclusively use cell phones. That would most likely mean a slight underrepresentation of Obama voters in the polls, Hagen said.

“There are lots of things keeping pollsters awake these days,” he said.

Nick Pipitone can be reached at

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