Just about two months from the Nov. 6 election, a new Franklin & Marshall College poll echoes previous surveys of Pennsylvania voters: Democratic voters are fired up, and the two candidates at the top of their ticket have comfortable leads over lesser-known Republican rivals.
Gov. Tom Wolf leads his Republican foe, trash-hauling company executive and former state Senator Scott Wagner, by a 52-to-35 percentage point margin among likely voters. Senator Bob Casey enjoys a similar, if somewhat smaller lead, over Congressman Lou Barletta, with a 47-to-34 margin.
Casey especially is helped by Barletta’s low name recognition: Slightly more than half of voters say they don’t know enough about Barletta to have an opinion – which on the bright side is down from two-thirds at the outset of summer.
Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say they are undecided, which suggests that both contests are likely to tighten in Republicans’ favor between now and Election Day.
But for now, at least, Democrats show signs of being more fired-up about the race: 60 percent of Dems say they are “very interested” in the election, as opposed to 53 percent of Republicans. And Donald Trump remains a motivating factor for voters on both sides of the aisle: Two-thirds of registered voters who will be backing a Democratic candidate say they will do so primarily to oppose Trump and Congressional Republicans.
Partisan fervor among Republicans is even higher, with nearly three-quarters saying their vote is primarily to support the president and the GOP’s majority in Congress.
Those findings track with other surveys, which have typically shown comfortable margins for Democratic incumbents. A polling average for Wolf shows a lead of about 15 points: Casey has enjoyed a similar advantage. And historically, midterm elections tend to benefit the party out of power.
Wolf’s approval ratings have been trending upward, the Franklin & Marshall survey suggests, and place him well above those of Gov. Tom Corbett at the same point in his one-term administration. Wolf ultimately bested Corbett to win the office.
Republicans have noted that polls, including Franklin & Marshall's, showed Hillary Clinton leading in Pennsylvania right up until the day of the Presidential election. Trump’s ratings remain anemic in the state, with 38 percent of voters rating his job performance as "good" or "excellent." Those results are consistent with earlier surveys, even after an often-tumultuous summer. Trump's approval ratings are roughly the same as Barack Obama’s at this point in his first term.
On the other hand, the midterms in Obama’s administration were a bloodbath for his party.