If you listed all the nation’s counties in order according to how unmarried they are, you see a few patterns at the top of the list. You see a lot of the nation’s biggest cities, where you have a lot of young professionals (and proportionately fewer middle-aged people, who are still likelier to live in the suburbs, especially once they have kids, and fewer senior citizens). You have the nation’s college towns, where you have a critical mass of an even-younger slice of the population. And you have a lot of low-population, impoverished rural counties where there’s an African American or Native American majority, where the high levels of unmarried women has a lot to do with the “missing black men” phenomenon: the adult population tilts female, because of a combination of higher mortality rates for black men, higher rates of incarceration, and higher rates of joining the military.
In fact, that combination may explain why the percentage of unmarried women is such a strong predictor of Democratic voting, even more so than either race or education. Those heavily non-white rural counties tend to have very low levels of education, so that limits the way that blue counties correlate with education. And college towns tend not to be very diverse, so that limits the way that blue counties correlate with non-white population share. But all the different posts in the Democratic big tent are covered by the “unmarried” category.
So what’s unique about Pennsylvania’s 2nd district? It has an unusual combination of all three of those categories, which helps explain why it has so many single people. The 2nd contains much of Center City, which is what most cities would call “downtown,” where you have a lot of commercial buildings but also a lot of apartments and townhouses crowded together, populated largely by well-educated white-collar workers living within walking distance of their jobs and their hangouts, who are disproportionately in their 20s and 30s. The 2nd also contains a number of major universities: the University of Pennsylvania in particular, located west of Center City across the Schuylkill River, but also Drexel University, St. Joseph’s University, and parts of Temple University, whose campus is right on the line between the 1st and 2nd districts.
And, finally, the 2nd contains much of Philadelphia’s African American population. The city’s two traditionally black neighborhoods are West Philadelphia, which is entirely within the 2nd, and North Philadelphia, which gets split down the middle by the district border. (For many decades, Broad Street, the city’s main north-south arterial, has been the traditional dividing line between the 1st and 2nd districts, with the 1st covering what’s east of Broad and the 2nd covering what’s west of Broad.) Further north, the 2nd also includes Germantown, a middle-class area that historically was considered a successfully integrated neighborhood, but after waves of blockbusting and white flight in the 1960s, is now mostly African American as well.
The 2nd also includes some of the more affluent neighborhoods along the periphery of the city, like Chestnut Hill and the recently regentrified Manayunk. Since 2012 redistricting, it has also included some of the ritziest parts of the suburban Main Line, in Lower Merion Township outside the city’s boundaries; in fact, these low-density suburbs now make up much of the 2nd district’s land mass, though not its population.
The 2nd (which is 58 percent African American, compared with 36 percent in the adjacent 1st district) is one of the bluest districts in the entire country, giving the same 90.4 percent of its vote to both Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012. (Mitt Romney did perform better here than Donald Trump, at 9.0 percent to Trump’s 7.6.) It also has been represented by an African-American representative for more than 50 years, starting with Robert Nix Sr. in 1963. (Nix was first elected in 1958 in the 4th district, which at that point was still part of Philadelphia as well.)
The district’s long-time representative, from 1995 until 2016, was Chaka Fattah. Fattah was easily re-elected, often unopposed, for two decades until he ran into legal trouble in 2015, being indicted for misappropriating campaign and charitable funds, partly to pay down debts from his unsuccessful Philadelphia mayoral run in 2007. Fattah persisted in running for re-election, but without the backing of the city’s other political leaders, he wound up losing the Democratic primary to state Rep. Dwight Evans (in a rematch of the 2007 mayoral primary, which saw both men lose to Michael Nutter). Things got even worse for Fattah in June 2016 when he was convicted of the charges. Facing imprisonment, Fattah had to resign, and Evans won a special election to serve out the rest of Fattah’s term as well.
Evans has put up a progressive voting record similar to Fattah, and given how dark-blue the 2nd is, doesn’t face a plausible threat in the general election. If Evans faces any sort of challenge, it would be in the Democratic primary, though any such challenge is less likely to be ideological in nature as more about geographical turf and ward-level rivalries within the local power structure; Evans, who lives near the Germantown area, might face a challenge in 2018 from someone from West Philadelphia seeking to head off Evans before he becomes too entrenched.
“The Most District” is an ongoing series devoted to highlighting congressional district superlatives around the nation. Click here for all posts in this series.