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Letter from the Editor: As Centre County Goes …

Mark Brackenbury

I’m a numbers geek.

It’s an ironic trait for someone whose only D in college came after the naive decision, as a freshman journalism student, to take a math course as an elective.

Nice move.

But I do love mining insight from numbers, as long as someone who has a clue has done the actual ciphering.

As the presidential election approaches – a vote that both parties agree is one of the most consequential in history, in an extremely consequential state – here are a few fun facts, culled from the numbers:

It might be a stretch to say that as Centre County goes, so goes the nation. But it’s not that much of a stretch.

Since the middle of the 20th century, Centre County has a remarkable record of voting for the candidate who won the presidency. Using 1952 as a starting point, there have been 17 presidential elections. County residents supported the national winner in 14 of those elections. The only times county voters went against the grain were in choosing Republican Richard Nixon over Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960, Republican Gerald Ford over Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976 – and Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.

That 2016 vote was something of an aberration in that Centre County picked Clinton, the Democrat, over Republican Trump, while the state – and in good part as a result, the Electoral College – went the opposite way.

It’s the only time in that stretch dating to the 1950s when the county didn’t back a Republican candidate who won the presidency.

Since the 1950s, the Republican candidate has run as strong or stronger in Centre County than in the nation in every other election but three. Only in 1964 (Barry Goldwater-R vs. Lyndon Johnson-D), 1980 (Ronald Reagan-R vs. Carter), and 2008 (John McCain-R vs. Barack Obama-D) did Centre County give the GOP candidate a smaller percentage of the vote than did the nation. To be clear, the county backed Reagan in 1980, but by a smaller margin.

The red tide has been turning blue of late, however. The Democratic candidate has won more votes in Centre County than the GOP contender in three straight presidential elections (Obama in 2008 and 2012, by a whisker over Mitt Romney; and Clinton in 2016). Prior to that, since the mid-20th century, the county supported the Democratic candidate only in 1964 (Johnson over Goldwater), 1992, and 1996 (Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, respectively).

So, we’ve become a bit of a swing electorate, in the middle of a swing state.

With that in mind, here’s one last number to consider: 63.

That’s the percentage of registered county voters who cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election (according to Centre County government, which has a great website: The number was similar in 2012.

That means nearly four in 10 of us did not vote.

We can do better. As November 3 quickly approaches, here’s hoping more voices are heard.


Mark Brackenbury

Editorial Director

[email protected]