New Pa. poll points to trouble for Republicans on abortion | Mark O’Keefe

A telltale shift in voter preference in bellwether northwestern Pennsylvania highlights the risk of GOP overreach

September 9, 2022 6:30 am
Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (L) and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz (R) Campaign file photos

There are surprises in just about every political poll, but some numbers from the recent Franklin and Marshall College poll showed particularly astounding results.

In the poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research, John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, leads GOP candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz 43 percent to 30 percent in the Senate race with 20 percent undecided, while Josh Shapiro leads GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano 44 percent to 33 percent in the race for governor with 19 percent undecided.

Nothing was surprising in those numbers. Both Fetterman and Shapiro jumped out to early leads and have continued to enjoy comfortable leads in both races.

The big difference between the F&M poll and other polls is that it breaks down the results from different areas of the state. And that’s where the numbers vary widely from other numbers in previous elections.

Back in August of 2020, Donald Trump led Joe Biden in northwestern Pennsylvania by a margin of 58-36 percent. He also led Biden in Central Pennsylvania 55-38 percent. Those two areas are some of the most conservative areas of the state, generally giving Republican huge leads in those counties.

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However, a look at those areas in results released last week showed Fetterman with a six-point lead over Oz, 35-29 in northwestern Pennsylvania, and two tied in Central Pennsylvania with each candidate garnering 32 percent of the vote.

To be fair, the poll does show there’s a huge amount of undecided voters, ranging from 36 percent of voters in northwestern Pa. to 25 percent in Central Pennsylvania.

It’s certainly possible that both Oz and Mastriano could still come out ahead on Election Day. However, they may well need to run the table to do so.

So, what’s behind the surprising numbers? Well, it could be a blip on the radar screen. But after being burned by some poll numbers in the 2016 presidential election which had Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump, the F&M poll’s administrators vowed to make the necessary changes to cure the problem of false polling.

Its polls have held up in every election since then.

You have to wonder if the abortion issue could be galvanizing women to vote in the fall election even in conservative areas such as Central and Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Both Oz and Mastriano have been outspoken that they will make abortion illegal if they are elected.

Meanwhile, Fetterman and Shapiro have been front and center, saying they will protect the rights of women to have an abortion.

Could Pennsylvania voters be following the lead of their counterparts in Kansas, one of the most conservative states in the country?

There, Kansans voted 59-41 percent against a proposal to remove the right to abortion from the state’s constitution, It would have overturned a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that deemed abortion a protected right under the state constitution.

According to the Associated Press, turnout was far higher in the election especially compared to other primary elections. AP said the turnout was more comparable to a gubernatorial election in the state.

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It was the first abortion-related referendum since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Also, according to the election watchdog group, Committee of 70, Pennsylvania is seeing a surge of new voters, particularly among women and those under the age of 25.

Those tracking the stats attribute it to one thing: the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

According to the group, the state has seen 65,000 new registered voters since the end of June. It said Pennsylvania only had 25,000 at this point last year. Of those, 55 percent are under the age of 25, and about two-thirds are women.

“This is very typically close to a 50/50 split. It’s just a consistent thing. So this is also unprecedented,” said Lauren Cristella, chief program officer at the Committee of 70. “People are understanding the power of their voice and their vote. Elections have consequences and, this November, there’s a stark choice on the ballot.”

That choice in the end will come down to a verdict on former President Donald Trump even though he’s not on the ballot.

However, Trump has wholeheartedly backed both Oz and Mastriano tying their future to his. If both Oz and Mastriano lose, it has to be seen as a complete and utter defeat for Trump. There would be no other way to look at it. After all the campaigning he’s done for them, it’s hard to see it any other way. If they win, that will be seen as a major victory for Trump.

So, that raises the question of what will happen if Trump decides to run in 2024. Will he have a chance in Pennsylvania if both Mastriano and Oz lose?

Of course, anything can happen between now and 2024, but voters can’t be blamed for thinking ahead and wondering how their decisions this fall could impact the presidential election in two years.

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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.