Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Fetterman’s and Shapiro’s leads might be narrowing in Pa.’s midterm races

Three polls released this week paint a complicated picture of the two statewide races.

U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman (left) and Mehmet Oz (right)
U.S. Senate candidates John Fetterman (left) and Mehmet Oz (right)Read moreStaff / File

A complicated picture of the races for U.S. Senate and governor is starting to form as polling picks up ahead of Pennsylvania’s closely watched midterm elections in November.

This summer, most polls of likely voters have shown Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman hovering around a 10-point lead over Republican opponent Mehmet Oz. Gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro has grown his lead over his Republican opponent Doug Mastriano to about 7 points in recent weeks. But two surveys released this week appeared to show a tightening of those margins.

Trafalgar Group, a Republican polling firm, released results from a survey of 1,096 likely voters it conducted from Monday through Thursday of last week, with a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster released its poll, conducted from Monday of last week through Sunday, which surveyed 522 registered voters and has a 5.3-point margin of error. Emerson College in Boston surveyed 1,034 voters Monday and Tuesday of this week with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The flurry of polls demonstrates how complicated it can be to take the temperature of a closely divided electorate. Small differences in how polls are conducted can lead to very different conclusions, and nothing polls reveal in August about Pennsylvania statewide races is set in stone.

Here are some takeaways from the polls released this week and what they could signal about both races:

How much Fetterman and Shapiro are leading by is unclear

The Democrats lead in both races, according to the polling, but by how much is unclear. The polling aggregation website FiveThirtyEight has the average gap between Fetterman and Oz at 9 percentage points. The site’s average for the gubernatorial race has Shapiro up 7.3 percentage points.

Franklin & Marshall found similar results across both races. In their poll released Thursday, Shapiro led Mastriano, 44% to 33%. In the U.S. Senate race, Fetterman led Oz, 43% to 30%. Considering the margin of error, that would give Fetterman between 38% and 48% of the vote and Oz between 25% and 35%; Shapiro would have 39% to 49% of the current vote and Mastriano would have 28% and 38%.

But two other polls released this week found half that margin.

The Emerson poll, also released Thursday, as well as the Trafalgar poll showed Fetterman with a four-point lead over Oz, 48% to 44%, in the race for U.S. Senate. Eight percent were either undecided or would vote for someone else right now. That puts Fetterman’s lead within the margin of error.

In the gubernatorial race, Emerson found Shapiro leading Mastriano 47% to 44% with 6% undecided and 3% planning to support someone else.

Expectations don’t match ballot choices

Despite Fetterman leading by only four points in the Emerson poll, many more of those surveyed believe he’ll become Pennsylvania’s next U.S. senator. Fifty-six percent of voters said they expect him to win, while 44% expect Oz to win, regardless of whom they support. That shows a disconnect between how people plan to vote and how they perceive who is leading in the contest.

Fetterman recently returned to the trail after nearly three months away while he was recovering from a stroke. His campaign spent weeks attacking Oz for being from out of state in memes that were widely shared in the media. Fetterman also capitalized on an awkward April grocery store video of Oz that went viral.

Meanwhile, Oz has spent the summer crisscrossing the state doing campaign events while dialing up the attacks on Fetterman’s lighter campaign schedule, accusing him of hiding from voters and reporters. Oz’s campaign ramped up its attacks on Fetterman’s health this week, asking whether the lieutenant governor is healthy enough to debate. Fetterman’s campaign has said he is on his way to a full recovery and will debate, though they’ve provided no specifics.

Most voters say Fetterman’s stroke won’t affect their vote

While Oz’s campaign has been more aggressive about trying to discredit Fetterman by bringing up his health, a majority of voters said the stroke would have no impact on their vote.

Sixty-eight percent of voters said Fetterman’s stroke makes no difference to them, according to the Emerson College poll, while 22% say it makes them less likely to vote for him. Nine percent say it makes them more likely to vote for him.

What voters think about Oz’s N.J. residency

Contrast that with another key line of attack in the Senate race: Oz’s longtime New Jersey residency. On that focal point, about half of Pennsylvania voters said it makes them less likely to support Oz, 40% said it makes no difference, and 9% said it makes them more likely to support him.

» READ MORE: Mehmet Oz is a top Senate candidate in Pennsylvania. What are his ties to the state?

Abortion is gaining in importance, but it’s not Pennsylvanians’ primary issue

The economy is the most important issue facing Pennsylvania for a plurality of voters, 45%, the Emerson poll found, followed by abortion access (14%), crime (10%), health care (9%), education (6%), and immigration (6%). Franklin & Marshall’s poll similarly found economic issues ranking at the top of voters’ concerns.

But abortion ranked five points higher in Pennsylvania in the Emerson poll than it did nationwide, a sign the issue may resonate more among voters in the state. In Pennsylvania, abortion access could be determined by who wins the governor’s race. Shapiro has vowed to protect abortion rights, while Mastriano believes in a ban on abortion without exceptions. The state legislature is Republican-controlled, though Democrats see a narrow pathway to capturing the statehouse. The poll also found abortion is more of a concern among women, who break heavily for Fetterman and Shapiro on the ballot.

Franklin & Marshall’s poll found that nine in 10 Pennsylvania voters support abortion access in some form. The pollsters found 37% of registered voters believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances and 52% believe it should be legal under certain circumstances.

The poll has surveyed voters about abortion for the last decade and attitudes toward abortion have become markedly more liberal since. In June 2009, only 18% of voters supported abortion under any circumstances and 58% of voters supported it under certain circumstances.