Pennsylvania voters have very strong — and mostly negative — views about President Donald Trump, and about half say they will vote against him no matter his opponent, according to a new poll of registered voters across the state.
Over multiple questions and surveys, a clear portrait emerges of an electorate deeply polarized over the president, with strongly held feelings on either side.
About half of voters had a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of the president, twice the number who held a “strongly favorable” opinion.
And while the divisions among Democratic voters are real during this primary election, especially across groups such as age, race, and income, the real divide is between the parties and ideologies: Most Democrats, regardless of which candidate they support, say they will vote against Trump no matter what.
“There were other Republican candidates and presidents who I wasn’t in favor of," but none generated “this intense hatred or love," said Ellen Slepion, 73, a retired microbiologist and registered Democrat surveyed in a Franklin & Marshall College Poll released Thursday. “He really separated the country.”
Like many Democrats, Slepion, of Yardley, is figuring out her favorites among a large field of candidates — she likes former Vice President Joe Biden, but hasn’t made up her mind yet — but in the end, she’ll vote for any candidate against Trump. Even one of what she calls the “progressive extremists.”
“I don’t entirely agree with them,” Slepion said, ”but in comparison, I think they still would be far better for our country.”
Bruce Burrows, 80, a Republican who lives near Kutztown, Berks County, has the opposite take: He’ll vote for Trump no matter who the Democratic challenger is.
“I think he wants to do right for our nation,” Burrows said. “I’ve looked at the Democrats. I’m not going to vote for a Democrat. I think the American public is tired of all the House and Senate focusing on getting rid of one guy. It’s sad. Work for the people. Make America Great Again, I really think that’s what he’s trying to do."
Pennsylvania voters who hold unfavorable opinions of Trump believe he is doing a poor job as president, and want someone else in the White House, far outnumber those who support him.
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The Franklin & Marshall poll is in its 28th consecutive year. Pollsters at the college in Lancaster interviewed 627 registered voters (295 Democrats, 251 Republicans, and 81 independents) from July 29 through Aug. 4 by phone and email after contacting them by mail. The results were then weighted by age, gender, education, and party registration to match the state’s overall population of registered voters.
The overall survey has a margin of error of ±6 percentage points, meaning the numbers may be off by up to 6 percentage points in either direction. The margin of error is higher, ±8.7 percentage points, for questions posed only to registered Democrats, such as which candidate they support.
The primary race: There’s a clear top tier of candidates, led by Biden and Warren
Asked for their first- and second-choice candidates, Democratic voters in Pennsylvania named the same group of candidates that are generally leading in national polls: Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. About one in five voters had no first-choice candidate.
Keep in mind the 8.7-point margin of error: Sanders’ 12% could be as high as 20.7%, and Biden’s 28% could be as low as 19.3%, so it’s not certain that Biden has more support among Democratic voters. What’s clear is which group of candidates is leading the pack; how they line up within that is murkier.
Democratic voters said “health care and insurance” (21%) was the most important issue in deciding which candidate to support in the primary, and the issue has dominated conversation and the debates and become a litmus test of how progressive or moderate the candidates are.
Support for a candidate varied widely by group and reflected a widening moderate-liberal gap and split along age lines. Democrats who identify as liberal support Warren and Sanders more than Biden, but Biden performs best among Pennsylvania’s moderate voters and voters without a college degree. Warren does better with more highly educated voters. Biden continues to lead among voters of color.
“Biden still has a lead, and it’s one he’s hung on to after two debates,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall poll. “But then you get these differences between liberal Democrats, moderates, young, and old that are very significant. These are pretty big differences that are likely to play out throughout the nomination process.”
Ideological lines have also shifted over time, and responses show the number of voters who identify as liberal has increased to the point where there are about equal number of self-described liberal, conservative, and moderate voters in Pennsylvania.
It’s unlikely Pennsylvania voters will have much say in naming the Democratic nominee given the state’s April 28 primary falls so late in the primary season. Instead, the major role of the Keystone State is in deciding the 2020 general election.
Democrats vs. Trump, the polarizing president
Pennsylvanians by and large either love or hate Trump.
Fifty-two percent of respondents had a strongly unfavorable opinion of the president, and 25% had a strongly favorable opinion. Only a quarter of respondents had an opinion somewhere in the middle.
That polarization continues when voters consider whether they’d vote for or against Trump in November. Most voters who said they support his reelection said they would vote for him regardless of his competition; likewise, those who oppose him said they would vote for whichever candidate emerges.
Democrats are particularly firm: 85% said they will vote against Trump no matter who runs against him, while 63% of Republicans said they support reelection regardless of his opponent. Of Democrats polled, 50% said the most important issue in choosing a nominee is who can beat Trump.