President Trump has barnstormed the country for weeks, telling supporters at campaign rallies that he wants Tuesday's midterm elections to be a referendum on his presidency even though he is not on the ballot.
A new Franklin and Marshall College poll being released Thursday shows that referendum is well underway in Pennsylvania — and the verdict appears damning for Trump and Republican nominees closely linked to the controversial president.
Trump's hand-picked candidate for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, and the Republican endorsed by the president for governor, former State Sen. Scott Wagner, both trail Democratic incumbents by double digits.
"The problem is, neither have found an issue that effectively works to drag the incumbents down," poll director G. Terry Madonna said Wednesday. The poll was conducted via phone and email among 537 registered voters from Oct. 22 to 28, and results are subject to an error margin of plus or minus 6 percentage points.
Sixty-one percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of Trump while 36 percent have a favorable view, another factor Madonna sees as holding back Barletta and Wagner.
Former President Barack Obama held similar numbers in a Franklin and Marshall poll just before his first midterm election in 2010, when Democrats lost control of the House and lost ground in the Senate amid Republican enthusiasm fueled by the tea party movement.
Nearly three out of four voters in the poll — 75 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats — say they are "very interested" in Tuesday's election, an unusual level for a midterm.
"Those are percentages that we haven't seen before," said Madonna, who has been polling in Pennsylvania since 1992. "Midterm elections are always a referendum on the president, but there's been nothing like this in modern history."
Issues that have dominated the news — the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration's controversial separation of immigrants from their children at the U.S. border — are driving that interest.
Democrats hold the advantage as they try to take control of the House. Among likely voters, 52 percent favor a Democratic candidate while 39 percent favor a Republican. And those votes are about Trump — 69 percent supporting a Democrat said they are doing so to oppose the president and his party while 83 percent supporting a Republican do so to back Trump and the GOP.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Scranton seeking a third term, holds a 15-point lead on Barletta, 50 percent to 35 percent, among likely voters.
Trump recruited Barletta, the former mayor of Hazleton, for the race and held fundraisers and rallies for him in Wilkes-Barre in August and in Erie three weeks ago. He also sent Vice President Pence to Philadelphia in July to rally voters and raise funds for Barletta, who is in his fourth term in the House.
Gov. Wolf, a Democrat from York County, holds a 26-point lead on Wagner, 59 percent to 33 percent, among likely voters. Trump, during the Barletta rallies, has said Wagner, also from York County, would be "one hell of a governor."
Barletta and Wagner have noticeable, if different, problems with name recognition, a key factor in electoral success in a state as large as Pennsylvania.
More than a third of voters, 36 percent, said they don't know enough about Barletta in the closing days of the election to offer an opinion, while 26 percent have a favorable view and 32 percent have a unfavorable view.
Nearly half, 47 percent, have an unfavorable view of Wagner, a downturn of 16 points from the last poll in September. That may reflect the national attention Wagner suffered recently after posting a Facebook video in which he threatened to "stomp" on Wolf's face while wearing "golf cleats." Just 27 percent hold a favorable view of Wagner, while 21 percent had no opinion.
For Wolf, 58 percent of those polled had a favorable view of the governor and 32 percent had an unfavorable view. For Casey, 48 percent held a favorable view and 30 percent held an unfavorable view.
Democrats in the poll "have more cohesion" to vote as a bloc, Madonna said, while the results showed more Republicans were willing to "split their ticket" and support some Democratic candidates.
Trump's signature legislation for his first term, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act approved in December, doesn't register well among voters in the poll. Just 33 percent said their household income increased because of it while 61 percent saw no increase. Of those who saw an increase, 54 percent described it as "small."
Strong majorities in the poll said their finances are "about the same" as last year (61 percent) and expect them to be the same one year from now (56 percent).
And the voters held different views for the future of Pennsylvania and the nation. Fifty-one percent said the state is “headed in the right direction” while 61 percent said the United States is on the “wrong track.”