The Lead

With redistricting reform in park, advocacy group releases poll showing public support for change

By: - October 9, 2019 10:57 am

With the decennial redrawing of Pennsylvania’s legislative and congressional districts growing ever closer, an advocacy group has released a new poll showing public support for overhauling what it believes is an unfairly partisan exercise.

Two-thirds of registered voters (67 percent) back the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district lines, according to a poll co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the advocacy group Fair Districts PA.

The poll shows broad, bipartisan support among Democrats (66 percent), independents (78 percent), and Republicans (63 percent) for taking direct control over redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and turning it over to a free-standing panel.

The poll of 901 voters was conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percent. The sample includes 426 Democrats, 353 Republicans, and 122 independents.

The new canvass “confirms the growing alarm we hear in every county and corner of Pennsylvania. Citizens believe that the current system is rigged in favor of political self-interests — not the interests of the people,” Fair Districts PA chairwoman Carol Kuniholm said in a statement. “The research clearly shows that voters no longer trust a process that lets party leaders manipulate maps for their own personal and party advantage.”

In September, a state House panel held its first hearing in three years on redistricting reform. It found advocates united in their desire to end partisan gerrymandering, but they split on the best path to get there, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported at the time.

Under current law, the General Assembly, with the signature of the governor, passes a bill redrawing the state’s congressional map. The four legislative leaders in the House and Senate, serving on a panel chaired by a fifth nonpartisan member appointed by leaders — or, in the event of a deadlock, by the state Supreme Court — handle the redrawing of Pennsylvania’s 203 House and 50 state Senate districts.

Some other key findings from the poll:

  • Seventy-two percent of respondents said the current system allows party leaders to put party interests above voter interests.
  • Seventy percent of respondents said the current system lends itself to polarization and gridlock.
  • Two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents said the current system “lets elected officials choose their voters instead of voters choosing them.
  • “Sixty-two percent of respondents said the current system gives voters fewer choices on Election Day.
  • “Sixty-one percent said the current system of drawing legislative districts prevents voters from holding their representatives accountable.”

“The results of this poll are clear,” Franklin & Marshall pollster Berwood A. Yost said in a statement. “Voters from all political, geographic and demographic groups support changing the way legislative districts are drawn. The support for reform is likely motivated by the fact that voters believe the current process for drawing legislative districts puts party interests ahead of voter interests.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.