At a glance it would appear Pennsylvania Democrats are poised for a big year in 2024. After posting a landslide win in the 2022 gubernatorial election and flipping a U.S. Senate seat long held by Republicans, and then sweeping all four of this year’s statewide judicial races the party is riding high.
Yet, a New York Times/Siena College poll conducted in late October found former President Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden in a hypothetical match-up 48% to 44%. Trump likewise posted significant leads in five of six battleground states trailing only in Wisconsin.
Given Democrat’s recent string of electoral victories in Penn’s Woods the Trump lead in the polls seems to be an outlier. But is it?
The bottom line is that when you have seen one election you have seen one election. Each election year has a Rubik’s Cube of factors with even the electorate itself comprised differently.
At this early stage in the 2024 election cycle two factors appear to be buoying Republicans: pervasive voter dissatisfaction with the status quo – especially the economy – and a rapidly dwindling statewide Democratic voter registration edge.
In the November 2020 General Election in which President Biden carried the state by 81,660 votes, Democrats held a 685,818 voter lead in registration. By the November 2022 General Election that lead had fallen to 549,568. The Democrat slide continued in 2023 as the voter registration margin narrowed to 446,704 voters. Thus entering 2024 the Democrat voter registration edge has declined by 239,114 voters – far larger than the Biden 2020 victory margin.
Governor Josh Shapiro has continued Democrat efforts to tinker in the electoral process bypassing the legislature to implement by executive fiat an automatic voter registration component to the obtaining of driver licenses. Even that move failed to change the trajectory of voter registration in the state.
A series of recent polls has revealed a grouchy electorate. This is the season of voter discontent. The New York Times/Sienna poll found 68% of Pennsylvania voters saying the nation is headed in the wrong direction, just 21% think we are on the right track. A September poll by the Commonwealth Foundation found 72% of Pennsylvanians think the country has fundamentally gotten off on the wrong track, 22% think we are headed in the right direction.
An October poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College found 50% of respondents are economically worse off than they were a year ago and 35% expect to be worse off a year from now. Fifty-five percent in that poll said the state is “off on the wrong track” citing concerns over high inflation and the economy.
The Fall 2023 Keystone Business Climate Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute found the owners and top line executives of Pennsylvania business to be in a similarly sullen mood. Forty-five percent said business conditions in Pennsylvania have gotten worse over the past six months; just 16% thought conditions had improved. Another 36% reported that business conditions had remained about the same. Past polls also found business conditions had worsened, so “about the same” means not good.
The depth of dissatisfaction among the business leaders was reflected in job approval ratings where all major elected officials including President Biden, U.S. Senators Robert P. Casey, Jr. and John Fetterman were viewed negatively and by a substantial margin. Only Governor Josh Shapiro managed to post a positive job approval rating. Even institutions – including both houses of congress and the state legislature along with the federal and state supreme courts earned strongly negative job performance numbers.
An additional factor that contributed to the Democratic sweep of statewide judicial offices this year is the issue of abortion. For decades Democrats demagogued Social Security scaring senior citizens into thinking Republicans were going to take away their benefits. Think the ad depicting former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan pushing grandma’s wheelchair off a cliff.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision returning the issue of abortion to the states, Democrats have distorted the abortion issue to their electoral advantage. In 2023 that issue dominated the statewide campaign. But, in 2024 personalities will take center stage and there is no bigger personality than Donald Trump.
If Trump and Biden are their respective party nominees the personality comparison will play largely to the Republican’s advantage – particularly if Biden’s obvious decline in mental and physical ability continues to manifest itself. How that will impact down ballot races for U.S. Senate and congress remains to be seen.
And so, as the 2024 election cycle officially gets underway the Rubik’s Cube will spin once again. The only certainty is that it is going to be interesting. Very interesting.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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