PA Executive Branch

Poll: Republican statehouse inspires voter confidence, 1/4/11 story by Brad Bumsted, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Posted on April 1, 2011. Filed under: In The News, PA Executive Branch, PA State House |

A voter attitude poll commissioned by the Pitt Trib Review and conducted by SP&R is discussed on voters’ perceptions of the new GOP majority.  Click here to read the story

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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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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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