9/24/2020 Peter Durantine

F&M Poll: Voter Concern About Economy Grows; COVID-19 Another Big Concern

With six weeks before the Nov. 3 general election, Pennsylvanians’ optimism about the direction of the state continues a nearly yearlong decline while their growing concerns about the economy and personal finances are matched only by their worries about the pandemic.

The latest survey of likely voters by the Franklin & Marshall College Poll also shows Democrat Joe Biden leading Republican President Donald Trump by 6 percentage points among Pennsylvania’s registered voters, 48 percent to 42 percent.

According to the poll, 58 percent of registered voters favor mail-in voting; 57 percent are confident their mail-in ballots will be properly counted; and 59 percent believe the state’s mail-in votes will be accurately tabulated. But only 32 percent of Republicans are confident the count will be accurate, compared to 83 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents, according to the poll.   

Voter concern about the economy has steadily risen from 12 percent in July to 25 percent in this recent poll conducted Sept. 14-20. Twenty-five percent also said COVID-19 is the most important problem facing the state.

Nearly one in three respondents, or 30 percent, said they have a family member or close friend who has contracted COVID-19, an increase from 22 percent in July. The poll reported that 74 percent of respondents believe they are unlikely to contract COVID-19 in the next three months compared to 63 percent in July. 

The percentage of voters who believe it is “extremely important” to wear a mask whenever they leave home, 64 percent, remains the same as in July. However, the number of voters who say it is “extremely important” to stay home has declined from 42 percent in July to 32 percent.

Meanwhile, the percentage of voters who think the state is headed in the right direction has steadily dropped from 57 percent in October 2019 to 40 percent in this latest poll.

“You can see some indicators that are troubling for an incumbent,” said Berwood Yost, the poll’s chief methodologist and co-director. “There is the number who think the state and nation are headed in the wrong direction; their finances are OK, but they’re not great; there are concerns about health and the economy. I think maybe all those things are troubling.”

While fewer voters, 24 percent, report that they are financially “better off” today compared to 33 percent in January, voters overall believe, at 48 percent to 46 percent, that Trump is better prepared to handle the economy than Biden. 

“That certainly is an advantage and an opportunity for telling a story about the economy that Mr. Biden has not taken advantage of,” Yost said.

The pollster also pointed to the level of enthusiasm for Trump among his supporters as an advantage—84 percent who say they plan to vote for the president say they are voting for him, not against Biden. Fifty-six percent of Biden supporters say they are voting against Trump, not for Biden. 

Nearly three-quarters, 71 percent, of the state’s voters say they are “very interested” in the 2020 elections, about the same level as last month. More self-described liberals, 81 percent, than conservatives, 77 percent, or moderates, 60 percent, says they are very interested. 

“There isn’t any doubt that Pennsylvania is still competitive; it’s still going to get numerous visits. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 visits so far from presidential candidates, vice presidential running mates, and major surrogates in the state,” F&M Poll Director Terry Madonna said. “We probably are the most visited state. Whichever candidate wins Pennsylvania is probably going to reach 270 electoral votes [the number needed to win the Electoral College].” 

The F&M Poll, like all surveys, is a snapshot of a specific point in time, not a forecast. All polls have variability; voters change their minds; and events after a survey can sometimes influence voters’ decisions, including whether to vote at all.

Conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at F&M, the poll reflects interviews with 625 Pennsylvania registered voters, including 296 Democrats, 250 Republicans and 79 independents. The sample error is plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.

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