Ironically, Pennsylvania, a state totally irrelevant in the presidential nomination contest, has become a key to any presidential victory by George W. Bush or Al Gore. A look across the electoral college landscape clearly indicates that Pennsylvania, with its 23 electoral votes, is a must-win state for both candidates. A handful of states, including Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio, are the battleground states in the race to determine the next president of the United States.
Pennsylvania's political importance stems from its electoral vote size and from its historical reputation as a swing state. This year, as much as in any past presidential year, Pennsylvania is emerging as a competitive state. Between 1960 and 1996, with the sole exception of the 1968 presidential election, the winning candidate for the presidency has carried Pennsylvania.
Last summer, a Keystone Poll conducted at Millersville University showed Bush a lopsided winner in Pennsylvania. His lead over Gore, 50% to 30%, and the strong support of Governor Tom Ridge and the state's Republican political establishment, virtually assured the Texas governor of a Pennsylvania victory.
During the last nine months, however, the Bush lead has vanished and a recent Keystone Poll has the two candidates in a dead heat, 43% for Bush and 43% for Gore. Some of the poll's results are what one might expect, but some are not.
BUSH LEADS AMONG
GORE LEADS AMONG
These indicators of support are pretty consistent with national polls completed about the same time the Keystone Poll was conducted. There are, however, some differences. Democratic candidates usually do better among women voters than Gore currently does with female voters in the state. When Republicans do well in Pennsylvania, they either break even or carry the Catholic vote, among which Gore now holds a slight edge among. National polls show Bush in trouble with Independent voters. Proportionate to voter registration, Pennsylvania's Independent voters are a smaller group than the Independent voters are in many other states, comprising approximately 9% of the state's registered voting population. At the moment, among those voters who are registered as Independent, Bush is more than holding his own, 43% to 38%.
Perhaps the most important findings relate to the geographical support for each candidate. As expected, Gore runs well in Philadelphia, 57% to 25%, his strongest area of support. His lead in Allegheny County, 47% to 38%, is decent, but not convincing in this Democratic stronghold. His most glaring weakness, however, is in the heavily Democratic counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania where his 43% to 41% edge is well below the Democratic registration of that region. These counties contain many of the so-called Reagan Democrats, the blue-collar working class Catholic voters who defected from the Democratic Party in the 1980s to help Republican presidential candidates carry Pennsylvania in 1980, 1984, and 1988.
Governor Bush leads in the heavily Republican northwest and the central part of the state, as most Republicans do. His most significant problem lies in the fact that he is not doing well among voters in another heavily Republican region of the state, the suburbs of Philadelphia, where he trails Gore, 46% to 42%. In recent years, when Republicans have lost statewide elections in Pennsylvania, they have not won the Philadelphia suburbs. In the presidential contests of 1992 and 1996, President Clinton's electoral victory in Pennsylvania was virtually assured by his strong showing in the southeastern portion of the state. There, college educated, socially moderate women, who are registered Republicans, crossed over in considerable numbers to vote for President Clinton. Additionally, Montgomery County, one of the crucial suburban counties, now has a Democratic congressman, again illustrating the transient nature of Republican voters in Montgomery County.
Put in simple terms, Pennsylvania is a toss-up state, winnable by either Bush or Gore. If it's likely that Gore will win California and the New England states, and Bush will win Florida, Texas, and most of the southern states, then expect to see both candidates spending much time and much money in the Keystone state this fall.
G. Terry Madonna, Director
Center for Politics & Public Affairs
Berwood Yost, Director
Center for Opinion Research
Note: The Keystone Poll is conducted by the Center for Politics & Public Affairs at Millersville University for Fox News, Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Harrisburg Patriot, Harrisburg. The telephone survey was conducted February 24 – February 27, 2000, among a random sample of 600 registered Pennsylvania voters. The sample contained 266 Republicans, 267 Democrats, and 67 Independents and Others. The sample error for the total sample is plus or minus 4.0%, but is larger for subgroups. As with all opinion surveys, these results are also subject to non-sampling errors. Non-sampling errors are best defined as errors that arise from interviewing, questionnaire design, and data analysis. The poll was directed by Dr. G. Terry Madonna. Data analysis and quantitative and methodological work were done by Mr. Berwood Yost. A statement relative to sample design and methodology is available upon request. Caution should be exercised when using data extracted from small sample sizes within certain demographic categories.