Is President Donald Trump in trouble in Pennsylvania?
The results of the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll appear to be a warning sign, with 51 percent of the poll’s 627 registered voters respondents saying they think it’s time for a change at the White House. Nearly three in 10 respondents (29 percent) are still firmly in Trump’s corner, leaving another quarter who are undecided, pollsters found.
That’s big news for Trump, who carried Pennsylvania by just about a percentage point, or 44,290 votes, over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
He did it by racking big vote totals outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, taking 808,019 votes in every region except for the two largest. He lost Philadelphia and its suburbs by 634,588 votes, and Allegheny County by 105,529 votes, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The new F&M poll, however, shows Trump commanding strong support in just two regions of the state. In northwestern Pennsylvania, Trump had strong support from 40 percent of poll respondents and strong opposition from 35 percent. In southwestern Pennsylvania, the strong support and opposition broke 36-32 percent in Trump’s favor.
Trump’s strong supporters were outnumbered 46-33 percent in the central region, and 51-32 percent in the northeastern region.
Those strongly opposed to Trump numbered 75 percent, 67 percent and 66 percent in Philadelphia, the Southeast and Allegheny regions, respectively. He only had strong support from 5 percent in Philadelphia, 19 percent in the Southeast and 28 percent in Allegheny.
It’s also intriguing to look at the ratings of those strongly favorable and strongly unfavorable toward Trump.
In February of 2016, Trump had favorable ratings from only 12 percent of respondents. His numbers have picked up somewhat but nothing approaching a majority. His highest strongly favorable ratings came four times at 26 percent, including this past July and June, August and September of last year.
His strongly unfavorable ratings started out at 51 percent in February of 2016 and have remained near that level since then. Last month they were at 52 percent, the same as last March when the previous poll results were announced.
So, is it time for Democrats to start celebrating and Republicans to start heading for the nearest bridge? Well, not quite. You have to remember that the F&M poll got the 2016 presidential election wrong in a big way.
Their poll released on Nov. 1, 2016 showed Clinton leading Trump by 11 percentage points. Trump ended up winning the election by .073 percent.
In an interview after the election, F&M Poll director Terry Madonna told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his survey, missed significant developments in the final week of the race such as FBI Director James Comey’s letter to congressional leaders on Oct. 28, saying he had revived an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server.
And Madonna says the poll did not register the intensity of Trump support in the state’s small towns and rural areas or slippage in Clinton support in urban areas such as Philadelphia.
In the end, Madonna vowed to try better in the future. But like a lot of pollsters he had more questions than answers about the election.
“Is this an atypical election?” he asked Chris Brennan, a political columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Will this ever be repeated? How much do we have to change our methodology?” Indeed those are the sort of questions political pundits are still asking today.
The bottom line is Pennsylvania is very important to both Republicans and Democrats. After all, the state’s 20 electoral votes are tied for fifth most in the nation with Illinois. And Trump was the first Republican to win Pennsylvania since 1988.
No matter what the polls say, though, we won’t know whether Trump can win Pennsylvania again until Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 when the country holds its next presidential election.
Capital-Star Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former Editorial Page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears biweekly.