Presidential Election

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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Will Newt Gingrich’s past raise obstacles for 2012 presidential campaign; a 3/5/11 article by Harrisburg Patriot News reporter Ivey Dejesus

Posted on April 1, 2011. Filed under: In The News, Presidential Election |

SP&R Pollster and political analyst Jim Lee is quoted extensively in this article discussing the viability of a Gingrich presidential bid in 2012.  Click here to read the article

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Could McCain Have Carried Pennsylvania?

Posted on November 11, 2008. Filed under: PA State House, PA State Senate, Presidential Election |

McCain’s 10-point percentage loss to Obama (he won the state by an approximate 54%-44% margin) has to be considered a landslide victory for Obama.  In 2004 and 2000, both Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Al Gore carried the Keystone State by 2.4% and 4% respectively against President Bush in both 2004 and 2000. Therefore, Obama’s 10-point margin represents a significant increase over the last two presidential years, and Obama made gains in virtually all counties of the Commonwealth in comparison to Kerry’s margins in 2004 with a couple exceptions. So what happened, and could McCain have closed the gap enough to win?


There are several things that had McCain been able to do differently, could have proved successful.  For one, the Obama campaign outspent McCain on paid media with TV ads in almost all media markets, including the vote-rich but expensive Southeast media market where 40% of the state’s population resides if you include Berks County and the Lehigh Valley, both of which are part of the Philadelphia TV market.  This huge fundraising advantage meant that Obama was able to dominate the message flow in the campaign – and more importantly neutralize McCain’s counter message that Obama’s plans to “spread the wealth”  – with higher taxes on small business owners and the wealthy as a way to provide middle class tax cuts – would further cripple the US economy.  This is partly why McCain’s use of “Joe the Plumber” got virtually no traction.  The lesson here is that if you don’t have the money to carry out a message, you will not be able to move critical undecided voters in the remaining weeks.  For instance, our mid October poll showed that Obama held an 8-point, 48% to 40% lead over McCain, but had McCain been able to get the undecided voters to break for him he could have closed the gap in the remaining weeks. Second, the Obama campaign was far more organized and energized than the McCain camp in the state: Obama had more field offices, more troops on the ground, better phone bank operations and a ground game that was unprecedented.  This ground game, which first got its notoriety in the Iowa Caucuses when Obama surprised all the pundits with an upset over Hillary Clinton, should have been a warning sign to McCain.  It is precisely this same ground game that helped propel Obama to victory in closely-contested battle ground states like Ohio, Florida and Indiana where polls showed a tightening of the race in the remaining 2 weeks. 


The third factor that impacted the race was the sheer dominance of the economy as the #1 issue on people’s minds. Pre-election polls, as well as exit polls on Election Day, showed that more than 6 in 10 voters said the economy was the most important issue influencing their vote preferences, and among these voters Obama beat McCain by a decisive margin.  This was an issue largely out of McCain’s hands to control – and one that fundamentally changed the dynamics of the race as far back as mid-September when the stock market dropped 777 points in a single day, precipitated by the failure of Lehman Brothers, the bail out of mortgage lenders Fannie May and Freddie Mac, and the government rescue of insurance giant AIG and others.  Prior to this Wall Street meltdown, and as late as our September 18th statewide poll commissioned jointly with the state GOP, we had McCain in a statistical tie with Obama in the state.  This tightness of the race also mirrored national polling showing the race was up for grabs.  However, after the Dow dropped on 9/22, and Americans watched in horror as their savings, investments and pensions evaporated, all of which helped contribute to a paper loss of $1.7 trillion dollars in the stock market in a little over 2 weeks time, the momentum shifted back to Obama and his surge both nationally and in most battle ground states was the final nail in McCain’s coffin.  This was clearly the game changer.  In fact, McCain failed to recapture the lead in a single poll from that day forward either nationally, in PA, or in most other battleground states.  In a state like Pennsylvania with high concentrations of blue collar “Reagan Democrats”, this was a fatal blow to McCain because our subsequent polling showed these conservative Democrats, which up until that point were the key “swing” voters, were now going back to the Democratic Party and Obama due to concerns about their economic safety.


From a strategic standpoint, a closer look at the county break downs in Pennsylvania showed Obama over performed in relationship to Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Obama only carried 18 of the 67 counties in the state, but won by a margin of 603,484 votes, almost 4 times Kerry’s vote margin over Bush just four years earlier.  The McCain strategy from the start was to hold Obama to “Kerry” numbers in the vote-rich Southeast, and at the same time maximize gains both in the South Central and “T” (both traditionally GOP bastions), as well as in the Southwest where huge vote margins for Hillary Clinton over Obama in the primary election were fertile ground for McCain. Unfortunately for McCain, many of these things never happened.  Consistent with our mid-October polling Obama went on to win Philadelphia by an even bigger margin than John Kerry, winning the city by an 83/16 margin, or a drop of 3 points from Bush’s 19% in 2004.  In the four suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia, Obama won by 15 points, besting Kerry’s 9-point margin from four years ago and even beating McCain in reliably Republican Chester County. Taken together with Philadelphia, this means that Obama came out of the Southeast with a vote margin of more than half a million votes, or 655,976.  This was no doubt a huge margin to make up in the rest of the state.  In the South Central/Harrisburg market, McCain beat Obama by 7 points, but Obama was able to shave 7 points off this margin in comparison to Bush’s 14-point margin four years ago. [Our mid-October poll showed Obama and McCain in a statistical tie in the Harrisburg media market, a huge problem for McCain]. In the conservative “T” which includes the Johnstown-Altoona media market, McCain still won by 16 points, but it fell far short of Bush’s 26-point margin in this same region 4 years ago.  Only in the Southwest did McCain actually over perform in relationship to Bush. In this region, McCain won the Pittsburgh media market (excluding Allegheny County) by 12 points, compared to Bush’s 8-point margin in 04, but it simply wasn’t enough.  Offsetting this was Obama’s 15-point margin in Allegheny County, which almost exactly mirrored Kerry’s margin in 2004.  


More importantly from a regional standpoint is that in the key “growth” counties of the state, our political consultant Steve Dull maintains that Obama was able to over perform by an average of 8 to 10 points in relationship to the Bush/Kerry results from 2004, and this is a huge problem for McCain and the GOP if the party can’t compete in these areas.  We are talking about counties in the South Central region like Lancaster, York, Dauphin, Adams and Franklin, as well as counties in the Pocono’s like Monroe and Pike.  Lancaster County is prime example of this changing dynamic, where even though McCain won by a 56/43 margin, it was nothing close to Bush’s 2:1 margin in 2004.  If Republicans can’t find a way to grow their bases of support in these growth areas, as well as maximize support from conservative Democrats in the Northeast and Southwest, they won’t be able to compete on a statewide basis given how the tide has turned against them in the Southeast. 


According to Steve Dull, some bright spots for the GOP include Beaver and Westmoreland Counties, both of which were reliably Democratic in past years.  Beaver flipped from Kerry in 2004 to McCain in 2008, and the GOP picked up a state Senate seat (SD47) and House seat (HD15), and also retained a House seat won in 2006 (HD14).  In Westmoreland County, McCain not only won but over performed in relationship to Bush in 2004, and the GOP picked up a House seat (HD57) and retained a Senate seat won in 2004 (SD39).  If Republicans can build on these successes in the Southwest, they can continue to be competitive both statewide and in down ballot races.


In addition, Tom Corbett’s 6-point win over John Morganelli in the Attorney General’s race can probably serve as a case study in how the GOP can be successful winning statewide elections in the future.  In this race, Corbett was able to win the 4 suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia by a 51/47 margin (or 627,897 to 579,953 in votes cast), despite the fact that Obama won these same counties by 15 points. The failure of Morganelli to do better in these collar counties meant it was virtually impossible for him to make up the difference else where without huge financial resources.


The GOP’s problems in PA are unlike the GOP’s problems nationally, where the GOP needs to figure out a way to appeal to Independents, young voters and Hispanic Americans – 3 growing constituency groups that are essential for growth in the future and all ones that exit polls show Obama won by decisive margins.  In Pennsylvania, which is largely a no-growth state, the GOP’s problems are more about strategy and tactics, and if they can make inroads in these areas they can continue to keep the state in play for future presidential contests.


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Palin’s VP Performance Was Good, but Probably Not a Game Changer in PA

Posted on October 3, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

Sarah Palin obviously exceeded most expectations in last night’s vice presidential debate with Sen. Biden.  She held her own, showed a good command of the issues, wasn’t afraid to call Biden/Obama on the carpet, and reminded voters of her working class roots that Americans remembered from her debut to the nation during the GOP Convention.  However, her performance probably won’t do enough to close the gap with Obama in the state.  Obama currently maintains an average 7 point lead in the state based on the cumulative average of recent polls from This surge for Obama came after a wave of support for McCain that peaked the week of September 19th when our last statewide poll (conducted jointly with the Republican State Committee) showed McCain with a 2-point 46/44 lead in the state.  At the time McCain’s support was cresting after enjoying a couple of good weeks prior to the fallout on Wall Street.  In this 9/19 poll, McCain’s biggest gains were in the West, where he was virtually tied with Obama in Allegheny County (a big deal since Kerry won by 14 points in 04), and the Central PA region, where he was beating Obama by more than 40 points (a region Bush carried by 26 points).  In the latest polls, Obama’s recent surge has come largely from Democrats in these two same regions – and reflects the fact that some of these Democrats broke for Obama after the bottom fell out on Wall Street, further reminding voters that under Bush’s watch, the economy is out of control, and that change is coming to Washington under an Obama presidency.  This surge for Obama mirrors a similar dynamic nationally.  So it is precisely these gains in the West and Central regions where Obama has made up ground.  In the recent (independent) polling that has come out, McCain now holds a narrow lead in the Central region, and Obama is again winning Allegheny County by a huge margin (similar to Kerry numbers in ’04).  However, Republican support for McCain is still in the mid/high eighty percent range, so even Palin’s shabby performance in interviews prior to her VP debate didn’t cost McCain GOP support.  On VP night, almost all the females in our focus group conducted jointly with The Bartlett Group and Channel 27 News the same night as the VP debate concluded that Biden won the debate. This surprised me.  Most said Biden stuck more to the issues, and connected with them more on an emotional level.  Most said that Palin came across as superficial, and that the down-home folksy charm thing was over the top.  None of them said they switched their minds as result of her performance. Anecdotally, Republicans I talk to now say they are reinvigorated by Palin’s performance, so all it may have done was reenergize the base.  Ultimately, how this impacts the race in PA is still anybody’s guess, but we don’t think it was the game changer McCain needed either in PA or any of the other battleground states.  This means we’re not convinced her performance was enough to win back some of McCain’s support from conservative, white working class Democrats he seemed to be enjoying in the polls “pre-Wall Street bailout”.  This is the reason why temporarily they are breaking for Obama. However, since many of them are the same types of voters who probably voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, we don’t get the sense that they are solid for Obama, so if McCain can reconnect with them, or if the focus of the campaign shifts to issues other than the economy in the remaining few weeks, he may be able to win back the hearts and minds of some of them.

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The Palin Effect

Posted on September 12, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

So what effect is Sarah Palin having on the ticket? Obviously a good one so far, but the key is how she handles herself the next 2 weeks on two key things: the VP debate scheduled for early October when she squares off against the seasoned Biden, and the unscripted one-on-one interviews with the press.  National polling shows McCain has pulled in the lead by anywhere from 4 to 10 points, and the main swing in support has not come from Republicans as you would have thought, but Independents and females in particular.  Among Republicans, McCain has consistently held approximately 85%-90% of the vote both “pre” and “post” Palin. However the energy level has risen with the GOP base, practically erasing a huge advantage in intensity the Democrats have enjoyed all year long. Among Independents however, what was once a 5 to 10 point lead for Obama has now shifted to an approximate 5 point lead for McCain.  This is huge. McCain now leads among all Independents, and the the real shift was Independent females (McCain has traditionally led with Independent males).  So the Palin effect has been real.  In PA, however, the results are not as clear.  Independents in PA make up less than ten percent of all votes cast are are not likely to be a factor.  In states like New Jersey however, Independents and “undeclared” voters are a huge factor, and our early polling in various pockets of NJ shows McCain dead even with Obama among Independents “pre” Palin. This may be enough to turn NJ from a solid blue to leaning blue state.  He could even be doing better with them (we’ll know more soon).  In PA though, the Palin effect will largely come among Republicans, and two regions in particular are vital.  First, the South Central or Harrisburg region, where our August poll showed Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr getting 4% of the vote.  In this region, McCain NEEDS to win by a bigger margin than Bush did in ’04, or we won’t be able to offset the Obama gains in Southeast PA, where our polls show he’s on track to over perform (in relationship to Kerry ’04 results). The other area of the state is the Southwest/Pittsburgh region – a treasure trove of blue collar, Reagan Democrat-types, although mainly Democrat in registration.  This is an area already fertile ground for McCain, adn our polls show he is winning by ten points (excluding Allegheny County), but the Palin effect could be even more importnat if her blue collar working class image further solidifies his base in this region.  We’ve said all along that SW PA is the real battleground for McCain given the huge potential from Hillary-type voters who can’t seem to swallow casting an Obama vote. Our polls in the spring showed Clinton beating McCain by 17, but McCain beating Obama by 11 if he was the Democratic nominee. So, this area is ripe for a Palin message if she can survive the next couple weeks.  In the Southeast, our initial polling is showing that Palin is either loved or hated, so we question how much traction she will get with soccer moms, or hocket moms for that matter. By the end of September, I predict we will know whether or not she effectively helps or hurts McCain because by then the nation will have gotten a much closer look at her.  As I write this her first battle scars from her first live interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson are not thought to be lethal, but definitely have given her opponents enough ammo in the chamber to keep pressing their case that she is unfit and lacks the foreign policy credentials to be one heartbeat away from the Oval desk.  The next couple weeks will tell us the answer.

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Going after the white, working class vote: the real “swing voters” in the presidential race

Posted on July 25, 2008. Filed under: Presidential Election |

If the presidential primaries taught us anything, it’s that both Senators Obama and Clinton relied on distinctly different constituencies to carry them through the state-by-state contests. For Sen. Obama, he ran well with African-Americans, white collar professionals, young voters, first-time voters, voters who are hungry for “change”, and higher income voters. For Clinton, she won with Catholics, females, Jewish voters, senior citizens, lower income households, blue collar “Reagan Democrats” who are more culturally conservative, Hispanics and voters who rated “experience” more important than making “change” for the sake of change.

To Obama, winning back the Clinton-type blue-collar voters that propelled her to victories in big industrial states like Ohio, PA, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky are the real prize for winning in November. For instance, in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania, Clinton won 70 percent of the vote or more in 15 counties in the mountains, including the anthracite region in the east and the bituminous coal country in the west – and some of these are counties that are 3:1 Democrat in voter registration.

Since the primaries, national polls show Obama is now running well with females, so it seems as if he has restored the traditional “gender gap” we typically see in national elections, where Democrats run double digit points ahead of Republicans with the female vote. Obama also polls well with Jewish voters despite previous concerns. However, males – and white working-class males in particular, are one of the key remaining swing votes up for grabs. According to newspaper accounts, in the state-by-state primaries Clinton and Obama split the white working class vote, with Clinton winning them in Georgia, Missouri, and New York, and Obama winning them in New Hampshire, California, Maryland and Virginia.

National polls show that pluralities of white, male voters don’t like Obama, and don’t relate to his background and perceived values. In contrast, by a 2-1 margin they express positive views about McCain and identify with his values and background. To make matters worse for Obama, McCain is showing strength with these voters because of his military record, the perception that he is more conservative on social issues, and Obama’s alienation of many of them due to comments he made in the primary elections alleging that voters in rural towns “cling to guns, religion, etc.,” when they are economically distressed. In Pennsylvania, according to most recent polls Obama holds a small lead statewide, but enough undecided vote is still out there to swing the election to McCain. In our estimation, the real battleground is not Southeastern PA, where one in three votes are cast, and where polls currently show Obama posting margins equal to what John Kerry got in the 2004 election, but rather the Southwest/Pittsburgh media market, where white, working class males are fertile ground. In this region, which accounts for about 22% of the vote, McCain is beating Obama, and some of these are areas that are 2:1 Democrat in voter registration.

If McCain can run well in this region (as Bush did), do decent in the Democrat-leaning Northeast where high concentrations of blue collar voters also reside, and at least keep it close in the Southeast he may be able to pull off an upset. So what do we know about these blue collar white males, or “swing” voters? According to Wall Street Journal reports, they once were the bedrock of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930’s. Then they became so-called “Reagan Democrats” in the 80’s (the term comes from white, blue collar union voters originally in the state of Michigan that switched allegiance to vote for Reagan and helped deliver the state for him), until Bill Clinton won many of them back in ’92. Two years later, the WSJ purported, many of them became “angry white males” resentful of affirmative action and the women’s movement and contributed to the Contract with America for the GOP gains in ’94. In the ’06 mid term elections, when the anti-GOP sentiment peaked over dissatisfaction with the US Congress, runaway spending, the war in Iraq and numerous corruption and congressional scandals, they voted Democrat in record numbers and helped flip the Congress back to the Democrats for the first time since Reagan was president. In terms of their weight in numbers, they make up one quarter of the electorate nationwide and are largely those with incomes less than $50,000, no college degree and unionized. So how can the presidential candidates win them over? For Obama, more than his positions on issues he has to win them over with character. Voting for president is more about the person, not the issues. This means that more than his positions on health care, free trade, or the war in Iraq, Obama needs to convince these voters he’s not all that different than they are. That he cares about the same things they care about: making ends meet, putting his kids through college and keeping the country’s moral compass from veering too far off to the left. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about the key issues facing the nation, but we don’t think it’s their litmus test.

For McCain, it’s really the opposite strategy. These voters already like him, can identify with him, and are comfortable with him given his many years of service to the country. What they don’t know is if he has the right answers to the tough questions facing the country. How to bring down gas prices? How to bring the troops home from Iraq with honor? What can he do to lift the economy out of its doldrums? Right now, he’s winning this group and they seem to be giving him the benefit of the doubt, or kind of a “pass” on these issues. But they’re patiently waiting to see what else the candidates have to offer, and which ever candidate closes the sale faster with this group could be our next president.

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PA May Determine Who Wins the White House

Posted on June 5, 2008. Filed under: General Politics, Presidential Election |

…And this may surprise you, but the GOP is making inroads


By Steve Dull, Senior Consultant, Susquehanna Polling and Research, Inc


Pennsylvania will be every bit a toss-up state as it was in 2004 and may very well be the key to which party wins the White House in November.  If anything, the state is trending slightly Republican in voting patterns based on the last two presidential elections this decade. The growth areas in the state and the west are trending Republican to offset the increasing Democratic trends in the suburbs.  Increasing Democratic registration gains have had little if any impact on how the state is voting. What is more significant is that despite the fact that Barack Obama spent nine millions dollars in campaign ads in the state, which is a state record, and McCain spent very little, no polls have shown Obama receiving fifty percent of the vote in the Keystone State.  So what voting demographic will determine who wins this state and perhaps the White House?


Perhaps no statistic is more overrated than voter registration.  In 2004, Pennsylvania was the third closest state won by the Democrats for President (behind Wisconsin and New Hampshire).  For example, in 2000 the Democrats enjoyed a 485,000 voter registration advantage and in that year, the nation voted equally between George Bush and Al Gore, while Pennsylvanians voted for Gore by a 4.2 point margin. In 2004 the Democrats were able to increase this margin to 580,000 voters, and while the nation voted 51/48 for President Bush, the Keystone State voted only 50.9% to 48.4% for Kerry, or only a 2.5 point margin, and the actual vote margin was reduced by 60,592 votes from 2000, which resulted in a 144,248-vote win for the Democrats.  This means despite the increased gains in Democratic registration, their vote margins actually shrank.  Though both sides in the state will make major efforts to register voters, it is mainly how existing registered voters and those voters who register or consider themselves independent vote on Election Day that will determine the outcome.


The GOP made gains in the western and rural counties of the central “T” and the growth counties.  The growth areas which lean Republican is generally an oblique line running from the Pocono’s (leaning Democrat) through the exurbs of Philadelphia (leaning GOP) to the south central border counties ending along the Franklin County Mason Dixon line (trending Republican).  This line has been a major factor in offsetting the continuing trend of the Philadelphia suburbs to vote Democratic.  Even in the city of Philadelphia the GOP received 19% of both the 2000 and 2004 Presidential vote despite a massive voter registration effort to register minorities, college-age and alternative life style voters to reflect the changing demographics, which admittedly did result in a big increase in turnout there. However, in 2004 many historically, working-class Jewish divisions concerned by national security and international terrorism voted slightly more GOP in Philadelphia to offset slight Democratic gains from 2000 elsewhere in the city. 


This is a state of swing voters.  I come from a family of swing voters. My father was a registered Democrat, the party of his father. He was a skilled, blue collar union member.  He switched to Republican registration to win nomination in the primary for tax collector in our predominately GOP town.  However over the next three Presidential elections he voted for the Presidential candidate of three different parties without changing his political party registration because of how he viewed the most important issue at the time in each of those elections.  It will be this type of voter without regard to registration but more driven by the key wedge issues of the election that will determine the outcome in the state.


Because it is how people vote that is most important, polling is the best guide to the future.  What is most shocking is that Obama, unlike Hillary Clinton, is still unable to get to 50% in general election polling in the state despite outspending Clinton 3-1, and John McCain spending next to nothing in the April 22 primary here.  Obama might be over performing among “hope and change” college kids and Africa Americans but he had his difficulties in the primary among 60 and over voters who I call “JFK Democrats “even though he was strongly endorsed by Senator Bob Casey, the son of a late prototypical JFK Democrat.  Some of these Democrats may have never voted GOP for President but are up for grabs this time in November.  They are centered in the coal regions of western and northeastern part of the state that Hillary Clinton carried by 2 and 3 to 1 margins in the Democratic Primary. It will be primarily these voters whom Obama insulted with his “cling to guns and religion” remark in the Primary who will determine which Presidential candidate carries the state.


With five months to go, the ‘08 Presidential Election is very much up for grabs in the nation and in Pennsylvania. Will it be the change of  expanding the government sector in the economy through higher taxes, appeasement of foreign dictators in hope of avoiding military deaths and cultural liberalism or change driven by a market-based economy, using the military to stand up to international terrorism, and supporting judges who believe in traditional values?  Pennsylvania may very well be the Keystone State that determines what kind of “change” we will have in November.

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How Can Republican Candidates Survive the Political Environment?

Posted on May 24, 2008. Filed under: General Politics, PA State House, PA State Senate, Presidential Election |

No doubt about it. The GOP brand is at an all time low, and for many reasons this should be the Democrats’ year.  Consider the following: Approximately 75% of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, a sentiment which historically works against the party occupying the White House.  A majority of Americans –and most Pennsylvanians for that matter – believe the Iraq war was a mistake and not worth the sacrifices. Most people think we are currently in a recession, or headed for one shortly and with record gasoline and food prices, mortgage foreclosures through the roof and problems in the credit market, people are simply looking for change.  Plus, the president’s approval rating has been flat-lined near 30% for more than a year.  So, when you ask Americans which party they want to win the White House, by a 10-point margin they say the Democrats. When you ask Americans which party they belong to, fewer and fewer identify as Republican.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, only 27% of voters have favorable views of the Republican Party, the lowest in the survey’s history.  Still not convinced?  In three recent special elections for Congress in Illinois, Mississippi, and Louisiana, the Democrats went 3 for 3 in districts largely considered safe for Republicans.  Even GOP Congressman Tom Davis, called President Bush “radioactive” in a recent news interview when asked if GOP candidates should distance themselves from him.


          Despite this bleak picture, McCain is still in a statistical dead heat with both Clinton and Obama in national polls, and is still competitive in Pennsylvania.  McCain’s resilience can be attributed to many factors. As someone who has been willing to buck the Republican Party establishment, his maverick-style image has made him attractive to Independent voters, moderates and Hispanics, which has helped him get some “separation” from the low GOP brand.  Plus, polls show he is fairly-well liked by most voters, has strong appeal to senior citizens and veterans and the same WSJ poll showed that among all three presidential candidates, Americans gave the highest marks to McCain on “values and background”, which the survey identified as things like honor, trustworthiness and patriotism.  More recently, a series of focus groups conducted in the key battleground state of Virginia with Independent voters – who are a critical swing group in many states – showed that Independents leaned towards McCain in November.  In a presidential race where people elect a person rather than a party, the fact that voters like him, trust him, and feel comfortable with him could be enough to get him elected.


So how do GOP congressional candidates or others down ballot survive?  What lessons can we learn from McCain?  For congressional candidates, it means GOP candidates must stand for something, and this means making sure voters know that despite the way the war in Iraq has been waged, there are dire consequences if we get out before the job is done.  On taxes and the economy, it means staking out a claim that to raise taxes now – as both Obama and Clinton have called for – would further shake the economy’s expected recovery.  On the economy, it means not hiding from the argument that America has largely benefited from free and fair trade; to do otherwise sends the wrong message to foreign countries who want continued access to our goods and services.  [This partly explains why repealing NAFTA was a political football for Obama and Clinton in the hard-hit state of Ohio, but rarely mentioned in Texas which has mostly prospered under the agreement.]  On spending, returning the GOP to the party of smaller government, including the elimination of earmarks, is a message most Americans agree with, and one the GOP has gotten away from in recent years.  Plus, extensive research on GOP attitudes conducted nationally show that today’s GOP voters tend to be older, more conservative on social issues, and more likely to live in the South.  As a result, the party is at risk of alienating support from Hispanics, Independents and younger voters – three constituencies essential for future growth. This means GOP candidates must find common ground on social and cultural issues like immigration, global warming, stem cell research and others that appeal to these growing constituencies.  Moreover, two of these groups in particular, namely Hispanics and Independents, are ones that could put McCain over the top.  One recent poll shows McCain polling at 41% with Hispanics, close to Bush’s 44% in 2004.  Even the evangelical Christian vote, in the past reliably Republican, can’t be taken for granted given the growth of newer recruits with progressive-minded policies on the environment and other policies.  It also means not ceding ground to the Democrats as the party best able to protect consumers, by instead voting against bills that give preferential treatment to certain corporations or industries.  One recent example is the mortgage relief bill designed to help struggling homeowners keep their homes, which the GOP rightly argues runs the risk of being nothing more than a bailout for lenders and irresponsible borrowers, a concept polls show most Americans are reluctant to support.  It is precisely positions like this that will help endear the GOP to voters turned off by special interests in Washington, a mantra the Democratic presidential candidates have used effectively this year.


     For state legislative candidates and other down ballot candidates in normally straight-ticket GOP districts, it means being fiscally conservative on tax and spending policies, as well as a social conservative against Rendell’s liberal social agenda.  In swing districts, it means working with Rendell when he is correct, on issues like education funding and lowering property taxes, but not being afraid to disagree with him when he’s wrong (like on higher personal income taxes), by voting the district on an issue-by-issue basis so you are perceived as rising above the partisan rhetoric.  In addition, since TV campaigns for the presidential race will drive the information flow at the top of the ticket, it means having the polls covered on Election Day so you can maximize ticket splitting down ballot.  Remember, in presidential election years turnout increases by 7,000 to 10,000 voters per district, and the increase usually favors the party winning the presidential race in that district, so it’s important to understand if you are swimming with or against the tide.

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