If perception is reality, then Pennsylvania Republicans have a real problem with voters when it comes to abortion and protecting welfare programs. But Democrats are doing just as badly fighting crime and the immigration issue.
That was the finding of a Franklin & Marshall College poll taken in April, according to polling director Berwood Yost. The survey reviewed how voters perceive the party’s stance on hot-button issues rather than testing the actual positions.
“We find that each party has several issues that give them an advantage, particularly among independent voters, but that partisans, in particular, have a difficult time believing the other party has any issue advantages,” Yost wrote.
For instance, more than half (53 percent) of voters think the Democratic position on abortion is “closest to the views of most Americans,” while just 25 percent said the same about the GOP. Those numbers were nearly reversed (51-24 percent) on immigration and public safety/policing (49-28 percent)
Slightly more voters said Democrats were more mainstream on elections, while Republicans were deemed more conventional on gun control. The poll numbers suggest elections in Pennsylvania will likely remain contentious in the near future, with both parties struggling to convince voters to accept their respective positions on various issues.
Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research and the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin and Marshall College, told DVJournal the poll results indicate “each party has some issues that work to their advantage and others that don’t.”
“Parties will always need to adjust their positions and messaging in a way that accounts for the preferences of less partisan voters to build a winning coalition,” he said. “At the moment, Republicans have some messaging problems around abortion rights because both independents and those who tend to vote Republican view the party’s stance as too outside the mainstream.”
Yost noted the survey “did not test support for specific elements of any policy issue or define those positions in any way.” The methodology only assesses “how voters perceive the parties’ overall issue positions and not what those positions are.”
The interviews were conducted March 27 – April 7, 2023. The interviews were conducted at the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College. The data included the responses of 643 registered Pennsylvania voters, including 287 Democrats, 266 Republicans, and 90 independents. Sample error is plus or minus 4.9 percent.
That distinction could have critical significance during a contentious election year. Charlie Gerow, the CEO of Harrisburg-based Quantum Communications, called the specifics of party policies “a really fundamentally important question.”
“The GOP, in my view, has taken a backseat and has not been as aggressive as they should be on the abortion question,” he said. “The folks that are on the real fringe on the abortion question are Democrats, who don’t believe there should be any restrictions whatsoever. They believe in abortions at any time, for any reason, paid for by the taxpayers.”
“That’s not a majority position at all,” he pointed out.
Gerow cautioned about reading too much into the numbers ahead of next year’s elections.
“Obviously, those results will mean a lot more in November than they do in the primaries,” he said. “The primaries are decided by a very different electorate than that which decides general elections.”
Swing voters, Gerow said, could prove to be decisive in throwing many of these issues in favor of Republicans next November.
Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is once again shaping up to be a major battleground state in what will doubtless be a bitter election season.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last month that the Keystone State is at the top of the GOP 2024 target list in the party’s efforts to recapture the Senate.
Democrats have also put Pennsylvania’s state Senate in their crosshairs for 2024 in an ongoing effort to claw back the huge numbers of state legislatures of which the GOP has gained control in recent years.
And there may be a glimmer of hidden good news for the GOP. A new HarrisX poll of middle- and working-class voters found that while the economy and jobs were the most important issue of the topics polled by Franklin & Marshall, Republican issues held the edge. Guns and school safety are the top concern of 21 percent of working-class respondents, followed by crime/drugs (18 percent) and immigration (17 percent), all in the top five. Both abortion and Social Security/Medicare were down at 10 percent and tied for 11th place on the list.