General Politics

The Public is Dubious about Obama care

Posted on February 27, 2013. Filed under: General Politics, In The News |

Our new PA statewide poll conducted Feb. 15-18 (N=700) shows Pennsylvania voters are very nervous about how this whole Obama care thing will work out.

In the poll, which was mainly conducted on behalf of our corporate clients, SP&R tested perceptions on how implementation of the new law will impact both health care costs and the economy in general.  The results are startling, and quite scary.

By a margin of 60-27, voters believe the Affordable Care Act will increase the costs of healthcare for both businesses and consumers.   This is a margin of better than 2:1.  How can this be good news for the Obama Administration when they have sold this law partly on the premise that it [the overhaul] will reduce costs for employers and consumers?  Isn’t this also what insurance companies were told?  Our past surveys for the business community show that most employers (nearly 8 in 10) say the costs of health care have already gone up not down over the years.  And now we have Joe Public weighing in with similar anxieties.   So if public sentiments are accurate, and costs will in fact increase, how can businesses absorb these additional costs?  And quite frankly why should they?  These results are proof that employers’ suspicions towards this new law are not only justified but completely understandable given what the public already knows about this new law.

To make matters worse, a comfortable majority of 53% think this new law will have a negative impact on job growth and the economy.  Only 30%, or less than one in three, say the law will be a good thing for the economy.   This is downright scary.  In the same poll, the economy was named as the top issue facing the Commonwealth – the 6th year in a row that economic anxieties trumped all other issues dating back to 2007.  So given voters’ fears about the impact of this law on the economy, can the President really afford to overhaul something this massive if it risks jeopardizing consumer spending at such a critical time?  This is such a precarious time for the economy’s recovery, and this new law may only serve to undermine whatever job growth we are poised to have in coming months and years.

Politicians like to say they put their full trust and confidence in the voters, but in this case I’m guessing team Obama is praying voters are dead wrong on this issue.  So if these results are right, the president may wish to beef up his PR efforts to win over a clearly dubious public.

Results to SP&R’s questions on this topic are available.

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ANALYSIS: How is Mitt Romney turning the tide in the ‘War on Women’? By The Patriot News Reporter Robert Vickers 5/22/12

Posted on June 11, 2012. Filed under: General Politics, General Surveys, In The News |

“What you’re seeing nationally is Republican females coming back on board with Romney now that he’s the nominee,” said Jim Lee, president of Susquehanna Polling & Research.Click here to view the article:

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Presidential Race is Up for Grabs in PA, But Will it Matter? By: Jim Lee, President of Susquehanna Polling and Research, Inc.

Posted on May 8, 2012. Filed under: General Politics, General Surveys, In The News, Presidential Election |

Presidential Race is Up for Grabs in PA, But Will it Matter?

With Santorum dropping out of the Presidential Race before the 4/24 PA Primary came to town it’s all but certain that Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee for President. 

In our Spring SP&R Omnibus Poll, Pennsylvanians already put Romney within striking distance of defeating President Obama if the general election were held today.  According to our survey of 700 likely general election voters (conducted 3/24 – 3/28), Romney and Obama are in a statistical tie at 45 percent to 45 percent.  Only 10% say they are still up for grabs – which is an unusually low percent of undecided voters with more than seven months to go until November. 

However, just because the race in Pennsylvania will most likely be close doesn’t mean Pennsylvania will be a “targeted” state by either the Romney or Obama camps. 

There are a couple reasons for this.   First, a good rule of thumb to gauge the competitiveness of Pennsylvania is to look at the national picture.  Past presidential elections show that Pennsylvania usually votes a few points more Democratic than the nation as a whole.  For instance, in 2004 George W. Bush won the popular vote on a national basis by three percentage points but John Kerry won the Keystone State by 2.5 points.  In 2008, Obama won the popular vote nationally by 6 percent but carried Pennsylvania by 10 points (54.6% to 44.3%).  So our March poll showing Romney and Obama tied makes sense because national polling at the time showed Romney with a small lead.

This is important because Pennsylvania has not voted Republican for President since 1988 when the Philadelphia suburbs went heavily for former President Bush, while Southwestern PA and the Pittsburgh region held for the Democratic nominee.  More than 20 years later, the Philadelphia suburban counties will never vote as Republican as they did in the 1980’s because of changing demographics.  Plus, in both 2000 and 2004 Republican George W. Bush won the White House but still lost the Keystone State both times.  Consequently, McCain ran poorly in Pa. in 2008 even with a great effort here. This leads all the Washington strategists to quickly dismiss the Keystone State as a swing state.  As evidence of this, significant media buys were made recently by a well-known super PAC backing Romney and Pennsylvania was not one of these states.  Even the Romney campaign seems to be downplaying their prospects for winning Pennsylvania according to media reports.


Pundits also say the electoral math for winning the required 270 electoral votes for Romney doesn’t necessarily come through Pennsylvania.  This means Romney can win the presidency and still lose Pennsylvania if he can win 5 to 6 states that went for Obama in 2008, but voted Republican either before 2008 or more recently.  States like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada and Indiana will be central to this goal, and probably trump Pennsylvania on the target list in terms of resource-allocation by Romney and perhaps even Obama.  But if polling shows Romney in serious jeopardy of stumbling in one or more of the states that flipped for Obama last time then Pennsylvania could again rise in national prominence.   Conversely, given Pennsylvania’s Democratic leanings it is plausible to argue that if Romney defeats Obama in Pennsylvania we could be looking at a landslide victory for the GOP on a national basis.

And this is why the recent polling showing the race tied in Pennsylvania is so important.  Crucial to Romney’s ability to win the Keystone State is staying competitive in the vote-rich Southeast where 1 in 3 statewide votes are cast and where voters are moderate on social issues.  In our current poll, Obama holds only a 10-point advantage over Romney in the 4 counties surrounding Philadelphia.   This area of the state is critical because Bush’s 145,000-vote loss to Kerry in 2004 was largely due to a 70,000-vote deficit in these same counties.  Plus, Obama’s 600,000+ vote margin in 2008 was largely due to his huge margins over McCain in Philadelphia and the 4 suburban counties, where collectively he surpassed McCain by more than 650,000 votes. So if Romney is able to hold down Obama’s margins in Southeast Pennsylvania he’s in a good position to win the state in November.  This is particularly true since Western Pennsylvania is trending more Republican due to voters’ conservative positions on social and cultural issues.  So as long as Romney isn’t viewed as a hard-right social conservative by these suburban voters in the Southeast, he is likely to do better than McCain given that the president’s job approval score in this region is down in comparison to what he won this area by 4 years ago.  At the same time, Romney is likely to hold socially conservative Democrats in Western Pennsylvania despite his moderate positions on social issues because the area is trending Republican, and antipathy towards Obama is still so high.

So pundits shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Pennsylvania as a battleground state.  A lot will depend on the state of the economy in November.  If a falling unemployment rate fuels voters’ perceptions that the future is looking better, Obama will benefit from this.   If however the economy continues to underperform and Republican enthusiasm to oust Obama continues to remain high Pennsylvania could very well be a deciding factor in November.

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High black Turnout isn’t Likely to Save Obama, but PA’s Fastest Growing Counties Can

Posted on September 28, 2011. Filed under: General Politics, Presidential Election |

President Obama’s prospects for reelection largely hinge on the health of the economy in 2012.  Our last poll in the summer showed that only 41% approved of the president’s job performance (down from 45%), while a growing 48% plurality disapproved.  When asked about reelecting him, only 44% said the President deserved to be reelected, while a 50% majority said someone else should be given a chance.  Furthermore, by a 50-16 margin voters said the economy was actually WORSE OFF today than 12 months ago.  Despite pundits who say the President’s reelection in the Keystone State depends on his ability to “get out his base” including record turnout from minorities and black voters, this is likely to have only a negligible effect.  Rather, Obama’s fate will more likely be determined by to what extent he can rack up strong vote margins in the state’s fastest growing counties which are primarily the reason he won the state by more than 600,000 votes in 2008.

While exit polls confirm that blacks voted for Obama by a near 95-5 margin, this support is all but maxed out.  For instance, in
2008 Obama beat John McCain in Philadelphia, which contains the state’s biggest concentration of black voters, by a margin of 458,784 votes due to record high turnout among minorities.  By comparison, former presidential candidate John Kerry beat George Bush by 412,106 votes in Philadelphia in the 2004 presidential race, which means Obama got only 46,678 MORE votes than Kerry did [against Bush].  Since Obama won the state by 603,000 votes, this suggests optimized turnout from minorities is worth about 50,000 more votes and therefore not essential to his victory.

Instead, Obama’s vote margins in the 10 to 20 fastest growing counties are where he really made the biggest gains.  A comparison of Obama/McCain results with Kerry/Bush results from 2004 shows that in all ten of the fastest growing counties Obama did an average of seven points BETTER [against McCain] than John Kerry did [against Bush]. These counties in ranking order from biggest
to smallest population gains include Chester, York, Montgomery, Lancaster, Berks, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Bucks and Cumberland.  In South Central PA, many people are moving in from Maryland to escape overpriced housing.  In the Pocono’s, it’s transplants from New Jersey and New York seeking lower property taxes and a better quality of life.  In the Southeast, people are moving further away from Philadelphia and settling in the “exurbs” of Lancaster, Chester and  Berks Counties.  Our poll show what these new residents have in common is that they are not straight ticket Republican or Democratic voters, but rather “swing” voters who split their tickets in most elections, in which case they become target-rich territories.  What perhaps most don’t realize is that these 10 counties account for more than 1 in 3 total votes cast in a statewide election, or sixty percent when added to the growth counties ranking 11 through 20.

Lancaster County is a good example because it is the 4th fastest growing county with a net gain of 48,000 more people according to the 2010 census.  Although McCain beat Obama in Lancaster County, Obama managed to shave 44,078 votes off of McCain’s vote margin when compared with George Bush’s 71,263-vote margin in 2004.  This is huge because it means this single county
by itself almost completely negates the 46,678 ADDITIONAL votes Obama managed to win out of Philadelphia due to record black turnout in 2008.

To extrapolate this even further, when looking at all ten of the fastest growing counties combined, the cumulative number of votes Obama either shaved off of McCain’s margin (in counties like Lancaster and others) or votes Obama improved over Kerry’s margins in counties he and Kerry both won (e.g., Montgomery, Lehigh and Bucks) is 246,664, or almost a quarter of a million!  So had McCain simply stopped Obama from making gains in these ten counties, and adding these nearly one quarter million
more votes to his tallies, McCain would have gotten 48.5% of the total vote in 2008, while Obama’s percentage would have fallen to 50.4%.  If McCain could have added even more votes by stopping some of Obama’s gains in other growth counties like Franklin, Centre and Dauphin (which rank 11th, 12th and 13th in growth), we are now talking about a McCain victory and an Obama defeat.

The good news for Republicans is that almost all of these top growth counties have proven they will vote Republican both at the top of the ticket and down ballot.  Many proved this the case when they voted for both Corbett for governor in 2010, and at the same time elected Republicans to the state legislature in districts that just a few years ago elected Democrats.  So if the GOP can be more
competitive in these top 10 to 20 growth counties it could marginalize any impact that higher minority turnout will have on the President’s margins in Philadelphia and other urban centers.  It is these growth counties therefore, and not minority turnout in Philadelphia, that represent the real prize in next year’s presidential race.

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Weak Economy Is Hurting Obama in PA

Posted on June 10, 2011. Filed under: General Politics, Presidential Election |

The economy is moving at a snail’s pace and this sobering fact alone could be enough to put PA back in “battleground” status in time for the 2012 Presidential race.

Consider the drubbing of bad news that surfaced just in the last week of May.   The stock market dropped 297 points in a single day, its biggest one-day drop since June of last year.  With this decline the Dow has now fallen 5 consecutive weeks, the longest losing streak since 2004.  Consumer confidence in May as a result plummeted.   Housing prices have fallen to 2002 levels, and are even lower in markets like Nevada and Florida.   Manufacturing output saw its biggest one month slowdown since 1984.  The jobs report on Friday, June 3rd revealed only 54,000 jobs were added in May (following only 83,000 in April), the fewest in 12 months, and pushing the nation’s unemployment rate back up to 9.1%.

All this forecasting has led economists to downgrade their otherwise sanguine projections for second, third and fourth quarter growth.  The economy grew at an anemic 1.8% in the first quarter, but was expected to grow more robustly in coming months.  

So it’s no wonder voters are taking this out on President Obama.  According to our newest poll conducted May 30 to June 2 (also available for Premium Members), only 41% approve of the job the President is doing, compared with 48% who disapprove.  This represents a further decline from his 45% job approval rating in March – and a sobering finding when you consider that the President has been “riding high” on his job approval ratings on a nationwide basis due to the positive “bump” he received after successfully finding and killing Osama Bin Laden.   So what I’m basically saying is that the bleak economic news has virtually “erased” any positive bump the president might otherwise have had.

 In the poll, by a staggering 50-16 margin voters told us they think the economy in the state is actually WORSE today than it was 12 months ago, which is significant when you consider that the recession technically ended in 2009. And among those who say the economy is doing worse, only 31% approve of the job Obama is doing, while 61% disapprove – a 2:1 margin.  Moreover, while 43% said the president deserves to be reelected, 50 percent or 1 in 2 voters say it is time to give a new person a chance.

So the economic landscape has everything to do with Obama’s reelection prospects.  In 2008, John McCain was “in the hunt” to win Pennsylvania as late as mid-September.  But all this changed on September 22, 2008 when the Dow dropped 777 points in a single day following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  Congress balked on the first TARP vote the preceding week.  After the bottom fell out of the economy, “swing” and undecided voters concluded Bush, McCain & Co. were to blame and broke for Obama by a 2:1 margin starting in late September and continuing into October.  McCain never regained the lead in our polling, and it became the official beginning of the end for him.

So next year the presidential race could hinge on how these same “swing” voters break on the economy. The New York Times recently opined that no president since F.D.R. has ever been reelected when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent.  And no economist in his right mind is projecting that the unemployment rate will fall to anywhere near this by the time the presidential race heats up.  So this means the pace of the recovery will have a direct impact on the President’s prospects for reelection.  And all this points to another close election for President in 2012.

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Experts: American political discourse more divisive than ever; By Mike Wereschagin, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Jan. 11, 2011

Posted on March 31, 2011. Filed under: General Politics, In The News |

Max Schaeffer doesn’t talk about politics. It’s not worth the aggravation.

“It’s like politics has become the third rail. I don’t want to talk politics with anyone, because it’s going to devolve into an argument,” said Schaeffer, 38, of Philadelphia.

That anger goes deeper than discourse, he said. It’s unclear whether it played a role in the massacre in Arizona on Saturday that killed six people and injured 14, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

But “there seems to be less room for people of goodwill to disagree,” said Daniel Santoro, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. Debate over poisonous politics, in which opponents are often portrayed as dangerous to the republic’s survival, have occupied much of the discussion since the attempted assassination of Giffords.

Economic worries, the packaging of opinion as news, scars from Sept. 11 and myriad changes have taken their toll, Santoro said.

“People are dissatisfied with the government and the way government does things,” said Mary Plouse, 74, of Newport.

In a sign of people’s economic worries and fear for the future, 47 percent of voters think the state is on the wrong track, compared to 39 percent who say it’s headed in the right direction, according to a Susquehanna Polling & Research survey conducted for the Tribune-Review.

“The polling these days definitely shows that people are becoming increasingly more polarized, and it seems as if voters are locked into their positions on so many issues these days,” said Jim Lee, Susquehanna’s president. He cited President Obama’s job approval, which “is just kind of stuck, with half supporting and half opposing.”

The country has gone through tumultuous, divisive and more violent times than these, from the Great Depression to the social upheaval of the Vietnam era. What’s different this time, Santoro said, is “we didn’t have 24-hour news in the ’60s.” Commentary packaged as news has given people new sources of anger, he said.

“I don’t want my own kids growing up in a country where Republicans only watch Fox News and Democrats only watch MSNBC, so I’m worried about where we are headed as a nation,” Lee said.

As happened during other economic downturns, the market for radical opinions has grown, Schaeffer said.

“Are you going to pass laws telling people what they can and can’t say? That goes against everything we stand for as a nation,” Schaeffer said. “I don’t see that Michael Moore is much better than Rush Limbaugh. I think they play on people’s emotions, and they make a lot of money doing it.”

“It might just be a period of time we’re in,” Schaeffer said. “And, hopefully, it passes as soon as possible.”

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Patriot News Title Recapping Pitt Trib Poll Was Plain Wrong

Posted on January 6, 2011. Filed under: General Politics, General Surveys, PA Executive Branch |

On January 4, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review released a statewide poll they commissioned our firm to conduct testing the attitudes and opinions of Pennsylvania voters on various issues facing the state.  One such question dealt with the expected multi-million dollar budget deficit for Pennsylvania (estimated to be $4 to $5 billion), and voters were asked to choose what they believed was the best way to solve the state’s budget problems from a list that included A) continuing to make significant cuts in popular state programs and services; B) raising some taxes or fees as a way to lessen the impact on cuts in programs or services, or C) a combination of the two (meaning both spending cuts as well as some new taxes and/or fees).   The results, first reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, showed that 56 percent of voters chose “some combination of spending cuts and increases in taxes and/or fees”, making this the most popular answer given.  In comparison, only 23% chose the answer “continue to make significant cuts in programs or services”.  What is disconcerting is that a follow-up story about the poll appearing January 5th in the Harrisburg Patriot News, written by Kari Andren, was eroneously entitled “Voters Believe Corbett Will Raise Taxes”.   This is just plain wrong and not only misleading but a disservice to the public, Gov-Corbett, our polling firm and even Patriot News Reporter Kari Andren who even reported the results in both an accurate and professional manner.

The fact is that just because 56 percent of voters stated they believe some combination of spending cuts and tax increases would be needed to balance the budget”, this in no way, shape or form led us to conclude that voters “believe Corbett will raise taxes”.  The question had absolutely nothing to do with Gov.-elect Corbett’s “intent” or what voters believe he intends or does not intend to do.  Rather, voters were asked to give their own ideas about what they thought would be the right mix of solutions to solving the projected state budget deficit.  To twist their answer into the notion that they believe Corbett will raise taxes is not only ludicrious, but unprofessional because it suggests that Corbett has been untruthful in his public statements on the issue.  I mean come on, the guy hasn’t even been officially sworn in yet and probably is at a disadvantage to even defend himself against this kind of slant.  So given how much influence these types of stories can have on voters’ opinions of our elected leaders, we think it is important to try to set the record straight so this kind of mistake can be avoided in the future.  Our elected leaders and certainly the public deserve much better.

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PA Gov Race: Onorato Is Losing, but Mainly Because of Rendell

Posted on August 14, 2010. Filed under: General Politics, PA Executive Branch |

Our latest poll in the governor’s race earlier this summer shows Attorney General Tom Corbett with a 10-point, 43% to 33% lead over Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato; 24% of voters were undecided at the time the survey was taken (June 3-7).  For all intents and purposes, Corbett’s lead is wide and deep and he leads in nearly all regions of the state. 

For instance, Corbett leads Onorato by a 51/25 margin in the Northwest/Erie region, a 53/21 margin in the conservative or rural “T” region which includes most of Central PA, a 51/27 margin in the South Central or Harrisburg area, and leads by a 50/34 margin in the Southwest/Pittsburgh media market surrounding Allegheny County.  Corbett even holds a narrow 43/41 lead in Allegheny County where Onorato serves as the county’s top elected official, and even leads Onorato 33/31 in the Democratic-leaning, vote-rich suburbs of Philadelphia, and the Northeast/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market by a 50/33 margin.  Onorato leads only in Philadelphia, a city that has become so Democrat that there are only three remaining Republican Members of the state legislature representing parts of the city, now a 27-member delegation.  

So the question is: Why is Corbett up by so much,  so early in the race?   The truth is that Corbett has three things going for him this year that all make him the odds-on favorite.  Number one is the fact that the political environment has shifted in his favor.  Truth be told, Republican voters have the enthusiasm this year, their base is more energized, and polls show that Republican candidates will benefit from the top of the ticket down to the bottom because they happen to be the political party out of power at a time when the economy is still wallowing in recession, one that national polls show most voters still believe we have not yet hit rock bottom on.  These political winds now blowing Republican are a huge headwind in Onorato’s face.

 The number two reason Corbett leads is that Pennsylvania has a history since the 1950’s of alternating between 8 years of Republican governors and 8 years of Democratic governors.   From eight years of Democrat Milton Shapp, to 8 years of Republican Dick Thornburgh, to 8 years of Democrat Robert Casey, to 8 years of Republican Tom Ridge, and back to 8 years of Ed Rendell.  It’s now the Republican’s turn, and Tom Corbett’s simply at the right place in history. 

 The third and most important reason Corbett leads is not because voters are necessarily rejecting Dan Onorato’s brand of politics.  In fact, Dan Onorato proved with his convincing primary win in May that he is articulate, well-versed on the issues, and has a vision for the state with the CEO-type credentials most voters would probably find attractive, all things being equal.  But all things are not equal when it comes to politics and campaigns.  And the polling is showing more and more lately that to most voters, a vote for Onorato is a vote for a continuation of the Ed Rendell agenda, something most voters are dead set against.  

 More specifically, Rendell’s average job approval score is a staggering low of 24% in 62 of the state’s 67 counties, while an average of 66% disapprove of his job performance. Only in the remaining counties of Philadelphia and its four suburban extensions (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery) do voters still give the former Philadelphia mayor and current governor a positive rating.  Moreover, the intensity of voters’ feelings against Rendell is quite sobering.  When asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the governor, by a near 3:1 margin voters say their opinion is largely unfavorable, and by a 2:1 margin the percent who say “very” unfavorable is usually twice as high as those with a “very” favorable opinion.  In some cases, the percent who have very unfavorable opinions of Rendell reaches forty percent or higher, even in districts in the west that register two-to-one Democrat or more in voter registration. 

Simply put, this animosity is not a Republican or Democrat thing. Rather, its’ very foundation is more driven by a lousy economic climate, a sentiment shared by most that our state is on the wrong track, and eight years of bad Rendell publicity piled high from continued late budgets, high taxes and record state spending.  But just as importantly, it has everything to do with a governor that has lost favor with the people, or one that most voters no longer believe shares their concerns and values or hopes and dreams for the future.  In eight long years, the governor’s poll numbers have come full circle for a candidate who first won the state back in 2002 by carrying only 17 of the state’s 67 counties, largely due to a tidal wave of support in Philadelphia and its vote-rich suburbs.  Four years later when he won reelection, he won 34 of the 67 counties, a huge accomplishment that gave him bragging rights to say he wasn’t only “Philadelphia’s” governor.  However, the support he earned in the counties he won in 2006 outside the Southeast has all but washed away, and all that remains is steadfast support in the same 5-county region that carried him into office in the first place. 

The end result is that Tom Corbett will run a campaign against Dan Onorato by trying to convince voters he is the wrong candidate to lead Pennsylvania, has the wrong policies, and is open to higher taxes and increased spending.  In all fairness to Corbett, he has gotten to where he is by doing most things right.   He won 15 of the 19 congressional districts when he campaigned for reelection in 2008, the same year the state voted overwhelmingly for Obama, which shows he is a proven vote getter.   He has earned an image as a tough, bipartisan prosecutor, a fiscal conservative and one who says if elected he won’t be afraid bring real reform to Harrisburg to shake up the culture of corruption. All these things are no doubt helping cement his lead and contributing to his current lead.   This puts him in a good position going into the remaining weeks of the election.

For Onorato to win, it’s a whole different ball game.  Onorato has to effectively communicate a message that he is a new kind of Democrat, which will help create the “firewall” or distance he’ll need from any direct or indirect association with the Rendell agenda. This is especially important in a year like this one when party labels matter. For this, he might want to take a page from Joe Sestak’s playbook for the US Senate, who successfully used a similar theme in his historic upset of Sen. Specter in the recent primary.  Onorato also has to convince people he has a proven record as a CEO to run a diverse state like Pennsylvania, and has the right mix of leadership and governing skills to lead.  He also has to get his base motivated, not an easy thing when polls show a lack of intensity to vote among Democrats.  If he can do this, and can take advantage of any miscues by Corbett along the way, this may put him back in the ball game and turn the race into a real dog fight.  If he doesn’t, November 2 could be an early night for him.

But to many heading to the polls, the number one thing on their minds will be a simple choice that doesn’t even appear on the ballot.  And the choice is Ed Rendell or Tom Corbett, and this is proving to be a tough and elusive opponent even for Dan Onorato.

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U.S. Senate Race (Sestak v. Toomey): A Referendum on Obama’s First Two Years in Office?

Posted on June 1, 2010. Filed under: General Politics |

Congressman Joe Sestak’s successful insurgent campaign over Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter in the May 18th Democratic Primary sets up a black-and-white, crystal clear choice for voters in the fall.   Basically, a vote for Sestak is a vote for a strong advocate for the president and his policies.  A vote for Pat Toomey is largely a repudiation of Obama’s policies, and particularly his handling of the economy and what he believes is a Keynesian-style, big-government approach to governing.  Sestak ultimately defeated Specter by a convincing 8-point, 54 to 46 percent margin and winning 64 of 67 counties in a clear repudiation of the Specter brand.  

A Specter versus Toomey match-up in November would have been a much murkier choice to some voters, pitting Toomey against a self-described moderate like Specter who tried to make the case that he was an independent voice for the state because he proved time and time again that he was not afraid to cross party lines for the good of the country or state, like when he cast the defining vote to support the president’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill in February 2009.  In a poetic twist of fatal irony, it was largely this vote that did him in with the state’s conservative GOP base and ultimately led to his party switch quickly thereafter.  Back then, our firm was the first to publicly release a poll after his vote for the Obama stimulus bill, which showed Specter’s base of support at an all time low leading us to be the first to provocatively  and prophetically proclaim that Specter “could be toast” in the 2010 elections.  [For more information on this poll Google the 2/29 Pittsburgh Tribune Review article entitled “Specter could be Toast in 2010, Pollster Says”].

So now that the battle lines have been drawn, the key for a Toomey victory is to make the election a referendum on President Obama.  Our recent polling shows Obama could be an albatross around Sestak’s neck.  In our latest April poll the president’s popularity in the state was down to 42%, an 8-point drop from his fifty percent approval rating less than a year ago, and an even steeper decline from his 55% vote margin over John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.   In this same poll support for the president’s health care overhaul is 43%, while 48% oppose the new law including 39% who “strongly” oppose it.  This poll was taken even after the president signed the new law, which shows that President Obama has not yet succeeded in selling the new law to a skeptical public. 

Since Sestak campaigned as the “real” Democrat in the race, the message he was sending to Democratic voters is that he will be a firm ally of the president’s policies, and that Specter could not be trusted because his party switch was done for opportunistic reasons, not the best interests of the state.  This puts Sestak in a proverbial box, because he now has to appeal to all voters including Republicans, Independents and classic “swing” voters who say they split their tickets in most elections.  In a state like Pennsylvania where up to 1 in 4 or more voters are known to split their tickets, winning support from self-proclaimed “swing” voters are the key to both candidates.  And in a year when the political winds have clearly shifted in the GOP’s favor both nationally as well as here in the Keystone State, this will be no small task for Sestak. Since Obama supported Sestak’s opponent in the primary, Sestak will need to use this as proof positive that he is nobody’s lackey.

The playbook for the Sestak campaign is to make the case that the president’s policies have helped put the economy back on the road to recovery (albeit at a snail’s pace), and that the current time is not a good one to change horses in mid stream.  Sestak will need to try to convince voters that the economic collapse was largely former President George Bush’s fault, and argue that a vote for Toomey is a vote for the failed Bush policies of the past.  Sestak will have to rely on economic data to make his case.  Although the nation’s unemployment rate has remained high (currently 9.9%), he will need to argue there is mounting evidence that the economy has shown positive signs of a comeback, like strong GDP growth, a stock market that has largely rebounded from a year ago, the fact that most Wall Street banks that received TARP funding have repaid back their loans to taxpayers, and that the economic reports suggest many businesses seem to be in a better mood to rehire and spend capital. 

Sestak will also have the added challenge of trying to increase turnout among presidential-type voters (i.e., minorities and young voters) who were instrumental in helping elect President Obama in 2008, but historically sit it out in non-presidential years.  Minorities in particular were seen as the key to a Sen. Specter victory in the recent Democratic Primary but ultimately did not turn out in significant-enough numbers to influence the outcome of the race (turnout was only 24%, even less than the historical norm for statewide contested primaries using the 2002 Casey/Rendell Democratic gubernatorial primary VTO of 29%).  The difference in turnout between the ’08 presidential election and ’06 gubernatorial is approximately 2 million fewer votes, from 5.9 million in ’08 to 4 million in 2006.  It is precisely this drop-off in VTO among minorities, younger voters and first-time voters that contributed to Democratic losses in governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as statewide judicial contests for Democrats in PA in 2009.

So the battle lines have been set for November’s showdown.  Most polling prior to Sestak’s win on May 18th showed Toomey with a lead in a hypothetical match-up against Sestak, but the defeat of Sen. Specter in the primary has changed the dynamics of the race considerably.  Good barometers to watch for as the race develops include the president’s popularity (will it rise or fall further), how economic data on the economy’s recovery is interpreted over the next few months and how both candidates reposition their campaigns to appeal to “swing” and moderate voters in a state known recently for its propensity to vote “purple”.

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2010 Gov Race Shaping Up To Be A Lot Like 1978

Posted on February 17, 2010. Filed under: General Politics, PA Executive Branch |

The Republican nominee for governor is a law-and-order prosecutor from Western Pennsylvania who is fighting state scandals in Harrisburg.  The main Democrats seeking the gubernatorial nomination are running to the right of the incumbent governor on tax and spending issues, making sure voters know fiscal discipline is the new “en vogue”.  And the governor’s favored choice to succeed him is not the leading Democrat in the race according to polls.  Believe it or not but the year we described is the 1978 election for governor, not 2010. 

If you want a glimpse into the governor’s race this year, 1978 is a good crystal ball.

 This year, Tom Corbett, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor, is a State Attorney General from Western Pennsylvania fighting corruption scandals in Harrisburg, while in 1978 Republican gubernatorial nominee Dick Thornburgh was a federal U.S. Attorney from Pittsburgh fighting mounting corruption and state scandals in the then-Shapp Administration.

 This year the Democratic nominee for governor is likely to be from Western PA (either Auditor General Jack Wagner or Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato), just like former Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1978.  This year, both Wagner and Onorato are campaigning to the right of Governor Rendell on tax and spending issues just like Flaherty campaigned to the right of Shapp in 1978. Last year, Auditor General Wagner even went out of his way to release his own blue print for how to balance the state budget by identifying millions of dollars in fraud and waste in state agencies, almost as if he took this page directly from the GOP playbook.

 And it appears Governor Rendell’s favored choice for governor – Dan Onorato – is not the leading Democrat in the race according to polling (most show Wagner more competitive with Tom Corbett than Onorato), just like Shapp’s favored candidate for the Democratic nomination in ’78 was his Lt. Governor at the time, Ernie Kline.

 History also favors the Republicans similar to 1978.  The 8-year cycle of alternating between 8 years of Republican governors followed by 8 years of Democratic governors started after the 1954 election with a Democratic governor and has continued to the present.  This year it’s the GOP’s turn to replace 8 years of Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, just like Thornburgh replaced 8 years of a Democratic Shapp Administration in 1978. 

 Despite all these similarities however, there are differences between 1978 and this year which could make it interesting depending on your perspective.  

 For one, the GOP is fairly united behind frontrunner Tom Corbett (he recently received the overwhelming endorsement from the Republican State Committee), while in 1978 Republicans had an open primary with 7 candidates and Thornburgh won with only 32.5% of the vote. 

 Moreover, Tom Corbett is being challenged for the GOP nomination by conservative state lawmaker Sam Rohrer.  If Corbett wins the nomination but without support from conservatives including “Tea Party” activists who are fueling Rohrer’s candidacy it could have a dampening effect on Corbett’s numbers if he doesn’t win them back in November.  Early evidence of this intra-party spat is that U.S. Senate GOP frontrunner Pat Toomey has publicly ducked the question of whether or not he is endorsing Corbett until after the nomination is wrapped up. 

 Second, our January polling shows Tom Corbett with a 44/28 lead over Rendell-favored candidate Dan Onorato in a hypothetical match-up while in 1978 Thornburgh trailed Flaherty right up until Election Day.  In fact, a late September Gallup poll that year had Flaherty winning by a 51/36 margin.  This year Corbett’s early lead is partly due to his superior name ID over his competitors while in 1978 Thornburgh started the race with only 20% name identification.  However, despite Corbett’s lead the race is still up for grabs in the Philadelphia suburbs since none of the main frontrunners on either side can call this area their home.

 Perhaps most the most important differences deal with voter turnout and the state of the economy.  Voter turnout for the governor’s race this year will be largely affected by a hotly-contested race for U.S Senate which will have national implications.  This means higher turnout from minorities and younger voters who normally only vote in presidential years could help the Democrat nominee rack up margins in the state’s urban centers.  Unfortunately for Democrats lack of turnout from these groups cost the Democrats victories in governor races in Virginia and New Jersey last year and in this year’s upset U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, so voter turnout with these groups this year is still a big question mark.  By comparison, in 1978 no U.S. Senate race was on the ballot to drive turnout and Thornburgh did relatively well among African Americans, losing Philadelphia by only 35,000 votes (partly due to a backlash against the Democratic mayor at the time over a controversial voter referendum on the ballot).

 In terms of the state economy, unemployment is currently at historically high levels whereas in 1978 the job climate was fairly robust for PA standards at the time.  High unemployment this year is contributing to a political environment that is favorable to Republicans because polls show voters are unhappy with many of President Obama’s economic policies.  However, it also means voters could be more likely to pick a candidate for governor who has an executive-type background as a CEO, which could favor someone like Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato over someone with a prosecutor’s background like Tom Corbett.  And if the economy improves markedly by the end of the year, it could help Democrats both nationally and in Pennsylvania particularly if the President’s job approval score rebounds before November.

 Unlike 1978 however, the real wild card this year in the governor’s race is Attorney General Corbett’s prosecution of legislative corruption in Harrisburg and if Corbett wins convictions of lawmakers of both political parties it will further cement his image as a bipartisan prosecutor making it much more difficult for the Democrats to beat him.

 So while 1978 gives us a good road map to follow, recent events like the outcome of the attorney general’s legislative corruption investigation, the state of the economy and the impact of the U.S. Senate race on voter turnout will help shape the outcome in November.

 Research for this article was provided by SP&R Senior Consultant Steve Dull and Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday, a book authored by former Capitol historian Paul Beers.

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