Seventy-one percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters say they are “very interested” in the midterm elections that will decide who controls Congress, the state legislature and the governor’s office in Harrisburg, according to the latest Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
Voter interest increased 10 points since F&M’s September poll with 75 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats saying they are “very interested” in the Nov. 6 election. That is a change from a month ago when more Democrats, 64 percent, than Republicans, 58 percent, or independents, 49 percent, expressed strong interest.
However, in Pennsylvania, registered Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters, said F&M Poll Director Terry Madonna.
“When you have 850,000 more active Democrats that creates an obvious problem for Republicans,” Madonna said. “Democrats are much more cohesive this year and much more likely to vote straight party and Republicans are more likely to split their ticket.”
Moreover, unlike presidential election years, voter turnout in midterm elections is usually low, said Berwood Yost, the poll’s co-director and chief methodologist.
“If the Democrats and Republicans are equally motivated, that’s good for Democrats because their turnout is typically lower, especially in midterms,” Yost said.
According to the poll, more registered voters prefer the Democratic candidate than the Republican candidate for the U.S. House, 53 percent to 38 percent. Among likely voters, more favor a Democrat over a Republican, 52 percent to 39 percent.
In Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf leads his Republican challenger, Scott Wagner, 59 percent to 33 percent among likely voters, with 5 percent undecided.
The number of voters with an unfavorable view of Wagner, who broadcast an ad in which he threatened violence against his political opponent, increased by double digits since the last poll, from 31 percent to 47 percent.
“I think that may have impacted him,” Yost said of the ad.
Among likely voters in the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Bob Casey leads his GOP opponent, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, 50 percent to 35 percent.
As the polling suggests, the primary reason for the Democratic incumbents’ large leads is enthusiasm and cohesion among Democratic voters, according to Yost. “The Democrats have the advantage on both those attributes,” he said.
President Trump is the motivating force this election with 69 percent of Democratic voters casting their ballots mainly as votes against the GOP president and the Republicans in Congress. Eighty-three percent who plan to vote for a Republican are doing so mainly to support the president and the congressional GOP.
“Midterms, by their nature, are referendums on the incumbents,” Madonna said. “But Trump is motivating the turnout more than past presidents.”
Sixty-three percent of voters said what’s made them a “great deal more interested in voting” this election is the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, now seated as a U.S. Supreme Court justice; 60 percent said the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; and 57 percent said the separation of immigrant families.
According to the poll, voters in both parties are equally motivated by the Kavanaugh hearings, but Democrats and liberals, much more than Republicans or conservatives, are motivated by GOP efforts to repeal the ACA and the Trump administration’s family separation policies.
The F&M Poll was conducted Oct. 22-28. It, like all surveys, is a snapshot of a specific point in time, not a forecast. All poll have variability; voters change their minds; and events following a survey can sometimes influence voters’ decisions, including whether to vote at all.
Conducted by the Center for Opinion Researchat F&M, the poll reflects interviews with 537 Pennsylvania registered voters, including 254 Democrats, 211 Republicans and 72 independents. The sample error is plus or minus 6.0 percentage points.