Six Weeks Out, the Statewide Pennsylvania Races Solidify
A new Marist poll of Pennsylvania adults, conducted from September 19 to 22, shows significant shifts in the Pennsylvania governor’s race compared to a June USA Today/Suffolk University poll of likely voters, but almost no change in the state’s U.S. Senate race. Beneath the surface, however, voter attitudes regarding these two races appear to be hardening relative to both the candidates and the issues. If these trends continue, it looks like both races will wind up in the D column.
The biggest change in the Pennsylvania electoral context is Joe Biden’s job approval rating in the state. Since the June poll, Biden’s approval rating has moved up 3 points and his disapproval has dropped 2 points. A 5-point improvement is an important, measurable shift. Not surprisingly, that improvement appears to be related to a substantial drop in concerns about inflation. In the Suffolk poll, 63 percent of respondents said inflation was their top concern. In the Marist poll, that figure fell to 40 percent—a drop that must have everything to do with falling gasoline prices, since other prices have continued to rise. Meanwhile, the abortion issue has ticked up slightly, from 14 percent to 16 percent. Naturally, interest in abortion policy is not evenly distributed and that distribution continues to favor John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro over their Republican opponents Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano. (More on that in a moment.)
In terms of the head-to-head races, Fetterman’s lead remains about what it was back in June. In the Marist poll he leads by 10 points, compared to the 9-point lead he had in the Suffolk survey. The numbers suggest that Fetterman continues to do a solid job of assembling the kind of coalition that Democrats need to win statewide. He’s blowing Oz out in Philadelphia (73 to 14 percent) and the Philly suburbs (58 to 38 percent), and more or less holding his own in central Pennsylvania, where he trails Oz by 12 points. Oz has had some success in solidifying his base in the region, scoring 8 percent higher in September compared to June. And, while he’s also been able to drive up Fetterman’s unfavorable rating in the state (up 12 percent since June), Oz remains 20 points “underwater” while Fetterman is still +5 in favorability.
Whatever gains Oz has made are not enough to offset what can best be described as catastrophic problems among high-propensity, white, college-educated voters. Among white, college-educated women, Fetterman leads 68 to 28 percent. Among white men with college degrees, he leads 62 to 35 percent. Oz has an advantage among non-college-educated white voters (52 to 39 percent) while Fetterman leads among non-white voters 67 to 22 percent. Fetterman’s coalition is larger, more diverse, and more committed. The Marist poll finds that 70 percent of Fetterman voters strongly support him compared to 58 percent for Oz.
Meanwhile, Doug Mastriano seems to have imploded, proving the point that radicalized primary voters choose terrible general election candidates. In the June survey, Josh Shapiro led Mastriano by just 4 percent. Shapiro now leads by 12 points, 54 to 42 percent, among respondents who say they are definitively voting in November. You have to squint pretty hard to see any bright spots here for Mastriano. Among college-educated white women Mastriano is down a whopping 45 points to Shapiro, 71 to 26 percent. Even in central Pennsylvania, Mastriano leads by just 8 percent (52 to 44 percent) while trailing, often badly, in every other region of the state. He trails in big cities (-48), small cities (-16), suburbs (-22), and small towns (-1). Only in rural areas does Mastriano lead (+23). Needless to say, rural votes are a necessary but insufficient component for statewide Republican wins in Pennsylvania.
As noted above, the cooling of inflation fears has helped to reshape the issue sets driving key voter demographics. When the Marist pollsters asked which issues were most important to them, 40 percent answered “inflation” while 29 percent answered “preserving democracy.” Among the “preserving democracy” respondents, 40 percent identified as Democrats, 36 percent were independents, and 16 percent were Republicans—suggesting that for a large portion of voters, there is a strong view that democracy itself really is on the ballot and those voters are coming out mainly for Democratic candidates. Add to those who are concerned about the health of our democracy another 16 percent of registered voters who said abortion was top of mind, an issue that also tilts toward Democrats. Together, this issue constellation seems to at least offset the weight voters are placing on inflation as an important factor in their vote.
This should have been a great year for the GOP in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It appears to be turning into a decisively bad year there (and elsewhere) instead. Republicans complain that Democrats did this to them by pushing “poor-quality” candidates through the underhanded means of explaining to voters what these candidates say they believe. As a general rule, I don’t think either party ought to encourage voting for bad, semi-authoritarian candidates, but when it comes to political dirty pool, I’ve seen a lot worse.