Democrats can win on the issues. But they need to sell them | Mark O’Keefe

Gov. Tom Wolf’s sagging approval ratings must be troubling to Democrat Josh Shapiro, who’s looking to succeed him

April 17, 2022 6:30 am

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with the press. (Commonwealth Media Services photo)

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The news for Pennsylvania Democrats is bad.

Both Gov. Tom Wolf’s and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have taken another hit in the most Franklin & Marshall College poll.

About in one in three (33 percent) respondents to the poll of 785 registered voters said they believed Biden was doing an “excellent” or “good” job as president.  The 46th president’s approval rating was similar to former President Donald Trump’s and lower than President Barack Obama’s approval ratings among Pennsylvania voters at the same point during their respective terms.

More, Biden’s approvals ratings declined from  78 percent to 61 percent among Democrats, from 38 percent to 24 percent among independents, from 79 percent to 64 percent among liberals, and from 50 percent to 42 percent among moderates since August.

Wolf fared just as badly, with little more than a third of respondents (38 percent) saying he’s doing an excellent or good job as governor. In July 2020, at the height of the pandemic, a majority of respondents (52 percent) answered the same way, according to the poll. Wolf’s approval ratings were lower among all partisan groups than in July 2020, particularly among Democrats (78 percent) and independents (57 percent), pollsters said.

Zooming out, more than one in three respondents (36 percent) said they were “worse off” financially
than they were a year ago, which was about the same as last month’s F&M poll. A quarter of Democrats (26 percent) and a plurality of independents (40 percent) also said they were worse off financially.

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Only one in four (29%) respondents told pollsters they believe the state is “headed in the right direction.” Three-quarters of voters (75%) who said they’re they are “worse off” financially this year than last also say the state is “on the wrong track,” pollsters said. Unsurprisingly, concerns about the economy (21%), including unemployment and personal finances, topped the voters’ list of concerns.

In more bad news, more of the state’s registered voters said they’d support a Republican candidate for Congress, 44 percent Republican versus 39 percent Democrat, pollsters said. That’s a retreat from April 2018, the year Democrats retook control of the U.S. House, when Democrats held a seven point advantage in Congressional preference, 42 percent to 35 percent.

Wolf’s numbers must be especially troubling for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is running unopposed for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Shapiro has backed most of Wolf’s proposals, so he’ll have to walk a tightrope between supporting the governor and coming up with his proposals.

However, there is some good news out there for Shapiro and other Democrats running for office in 2022. They come from the results of F&M’s October 2021 poll, which focused more on issues.

According to that poll, 47 percent of registered voters identify themselves as Democrats compared to 39 percent who call themselves Republicans.

GOP candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate are eager to tie themselves to former President Donald Trump, but the poll showed that 56 percent of registered voters had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

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Only 39 percent were favorable to Trump, down from a high of 44 percent in June of 2021.

Also, the poll showed only 34 percent of respondents considered themselves Trump Republicans, down from 50 percent in June of 2021. Forty-six percent labeled themselves as traditional Republicans, up from 30 percent in June of 2021.

Meanwhile, the poll showed that 88 percent of respondents said it would be bad for democracy in the U.S. if the events that took place at the capitol on Jan. 6 happened after every election. Only five percent said it would be good.

The poll also showed support for many Democrat proposals. More laws regulating guns were backed by a 54-42 percent margin.

Those not owning guns outnumbered those owning guns 58-42 percent.

The poll showed 36 percent backing legal abortion under any circumstances, 51 percent backing legal abortions under certain circumstances, and 11 percent in favor of making abortion illegal in all circumstances.

Eighty-one percent oppose the recently passed Texas law which allows private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone performing or helping another person get an abortion. Only 14 percent favored the law.

The number of those favoring making legal under any circumstances was the highest percentage since the question was first asked in June of 2019. Back then only 18 percent favored making abortion legal under any circumstance.

Finally, the poll showed that 60 percent of respondents favor legalizing marijuana. This could be a helpful issue for Democrats next fall as Shapiro along with the top party candidates for U.S. Senate, Conor Lamb, and John Fetterman favor legalization while it’s widely opposed by the GOP candidates in those races.

The numbers show strength for legalization in almost every region of the state. Philadelphia led the way with 83 percent in favor. Northeast was next at 70 percent, followed by Southeast and Allegheny at 67 and 56 percent, respectively.

In Central Pennsylvania, there were 49 in favor and 44 against while there were 49 in favor in Southwest Pennsylvania and 48 percent against.

The only region against legalization was the Northwest where 49 percent were against legalization, and 46 percent were for it.
It’s interesting that state Sen. Mike Regan, R-York, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreation.

Regan, a former U.S. Marshal, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said  he had seen saw organized crime and drug cartels get rich from selling unregulated marijuana during his law enforcement career. He said it would be much better if the marijuana could be regulated with the proceeds going to Pennsylvania residents.

Further, Regan said Pennsylvania needed to act with New York and New Jersey’s recent moves to legalize marijuana while other surrounding states of Delaware, Maryland, and Ohio are discussing it. He said that will undoubtedly lead to cross-border sales with Pennsylvanians contributing to the tax base of those states.

It’s estimated that legalizing marijuana could bring in between half a million to a million dollars in new revenue for the state if it’s done soon.

Regan has circulated a bill that would allow marijuana use by adults 21 and older. He intends to include language in it to decriminalize marijuana and seek to expunge the records of those with non-violent low-level cannabis charges.

The only Republican senator to come out for legalizing marijuana, Regan said he will work to rally support from his fellow senators.

Regan told that when he was serving in the House of Representatives and medical marijuana legislation was first proposed, that, “the no’s were more visceral than the no’s are for this. And I think part of that is because of medical marijuana. People have seen there are 600,000 users out there and the world hasn’t imploded. I think that’s important.

“People are starting to realize the polling on this,” Regan added. “It’s 60-plus percent across the state. I think some people who think they maybe would receive negative feedback from their constituents are now maybe thinking they won’t.”

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Mark O'Keefe
Mark O'Keefe

Opinion contributor Mark O'Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.,  is the former editorial page editor of the Herald-Standard of Uniontown. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page.