Gov. Josh Shapiro has been in office for three months and so far, more than half of Pennsylvanians approve of the job he is doing although a majority believe overall the state is heading in the wrong direction, according to a statewide poll released on Thursday.
The “Common Ground in the Commonwealth” poll shows the new governor enjoys the support of 54% of voters while his disapproval rating stands at 31% in a survey conducted by Washington, D.C.-based The Bullfinch Group, an independent, non-partisan polling firm and paid for by the conservative-leaning Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg. It is the first in what will be an ongoing quarterly survey.
For comparison, a poll that the Commonwealth Foundation paid for last May showed former Gov. Tom Wolf had a 53% favorable rating and 47% disapproval rating as he was winding up his time in office.
“Governor Shapiro is in a strong position for the beginning of his term,” said Commonwealth Foundation senior vice president Erik Telford. “Shapiro does have the opportunity ahead of him to set a new tone if he follows through on the pledges he made on the campaign trail which the polls show have overwhelming bipartisan support.”
As it stands, though, 61% of the poll participants say Pennsylvania has gotten on the wrong track with only about a quarter, or 27% saying it is headed in the right direction.
The survey of 600 geographically and politically diverse registered voters was conducted between March 24 and 29. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. The survey covered a wide variety of topics, including gauging approval ratings on policy issues, other elected officials and even Pennsylvania’s two Major League baseball teams.
Lifeline Scholarships: On the campaign trail, Shapiro voiced support for Lifeline Scholarships, which are taxpayer-funded scholarships for students in the state’s worst-performing public schools to use for educational expenses such as tutoring and tuition to attend a different school.
The poll shows 67% of voters somewhat or strongly favor Lifeline Scholarships and 21% somewhat or strongly opposed and 12% are unsure. Many Republican lawmakers approve of them as well as the Commonwealth Foundation.
Shapiro’s 2023-24 budget proposal, however, included no funding for them. Acting Education Secretary Khalid Mumin told senators at a recent budget hearing that the governor remains supportive of Lifeline Scholarships “but not at the detriment of [local educational agencies] or local education or school districts.” He went on to say the parameters of such a program require a deeper conversation and that’s why no funding was included for them.
However, it’s no secret that one of Shapiro’s biggest donors to his campaign, the Pennsylvania State Education Association is not a fan of this idea, saying it will divert money away from public schools.
“Whatever you call them, irresponsible tuition voucher proposals like this will end up hurting Pennsylvania’s students, not helping them,” said PSEA spokesman Chris Lilienthal.
An even greater majority, or 77%, favor increasing the state’s existing private school scholarship program that provides tax credits to businesses that donate money to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to low-income and middle-income children in Pennsylvania to attend pre-kindergarten or K-12 private school. Fourteen percent oppose any further expansion of the tax credit program.
Improving the business climate: Another campaign promise Shapiro made about lowering the tax on corporate profits, which has been seen as an obstacle to Pennsylvania’s economic growth, also drew strong support, especially from GOP lawmakers.
Shapiro pledged to lower the 8.99% corporate net income tax to 4% by 2025. The poll shows more than three-quarters, or 77%, of voters support that idea; 15% opposed and 8% were unsure.
Shapiro’s budget proposal only calls for lowering it to 8.49% in the next fiscal year. Administration officials said the governor remains committed to continuing decreasing the rate over five years, but they need more data to determine the best approach for accomplishing it given the unpredictable nature of the revenue source.
Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, stands among those favoring the more rapid reduction candidate Shapiro promised.
“Accelerating the phase down of Pennsylvania’s corporate net Income tax rate will make us more competitive with other states and show the world that the commonwealth is open for business,” Bernstein said. “With the state’s corporation tax revenue collections nearly $900 million ahead of projections for the year, now is the time for lawmakers to continue the bipartisan progress they made in last year’s budget, speed up the CNI reduction, and unleash Pennsylvania’s full economic potential.”
Keeping Pennsylvanians here: Lower taxes and cost of living, and better jobs and opportunities were cited as the chief reasons why voters are thinking about leaving the state. Those surveyed also said they might leave to find elected leaders more aligned with their personal values, safer communities, and more personal freedom.
The survey showed 44% of respondents indicated they have thought about leaving the state or someone they know has thought about it or has actually left. The three most popular relocation destinations they identified are the red states of Florida, Texas and South Carolina.
WalletHub recently ranked Pennsylvania as having one of the nation’s highest state and local tax burdens behind only Illinois, Connecticut and New York.
“It is a troubling sign that policy makers should take note of because it’s not just this poll, it’s the outbound migration data that we see with people voting with their feet to move to more political and policy red states,” said Telford of Commonwealth Foundation.
According to the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, Pennsylvania lost more than a 250,000 residents from 2017 to 2021 with most moving to border states and the Southeast.
Other findings: The poll covers a lot of territory from public support of presidential and U.S. Senate candidates to the proposed constitutional amendments that are before the General Assembly. Here are some of those results:
Of all the state officials, Attorney General Michelle Henry, who was nominated to the post by Shapiro after he resigned to become governor, had the highest favorable rating of 67%.
Eighty-six percent favor speeding up the process for businesses and individuals to obtain state-issued professional licenses, permits, or certifications and holding government bureaucrats accountable for delays, with 8% opposed.
Of the state’s two Major League baseball teams, the Philadelphia Phillies had the higher favorable rating, scoring 39% to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 18%. Interestingly, while only 3% said they never heard of the Phillies, 26% of respondents said, “The Pirates who?”
As for who they would like to run for U.S. Senate next year, former Gov. Tom Wolf edged past incumbent Sen. Bob Casey and followed by state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who lost his gubernatorial bid last year, and then television doctor Mehmet Oz, who lost his U.S. senatorial bid last year.
As for president, poll respondents said former President Donald Trump is who most said they would like to see run followed by fellow Republican (and Florida Gov.) Ron DeSantis, then Democratic incumbent President Joe Biden, and Gov. Shapiro.
Seventy-seven percent support a constitutional amendment modernizing Pennsylvania’s election laws to require voter identification, while just 17% oppose. On proposed constitutional amendment to reform the statute of limitations to allow childhood sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits against their abusers, 63% indicated they would vote yes, while 21% were a no.
About the poll: The Commonwealth Foundation intends to conduct a quarterly survey to provide a running assessment of voter sentiments in Pennsylvania that is a bellwether state in national elections. The survey, while touching on elections and some federal issues, has a particular emphasis on state-level policies and interests.
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