Pennsylvania Poll: Trump’s Economy Provides Opportunity for Democrats

September 24, 2019


Pennsylvania promises to be extremely close again in 2020. Our latest poll shows opportunity for Democrats — if they can focus on the issues that voters most care about but are hearing the least about. While messages about Trump’s racism, dishonesty, tweeting, and general unfitness for office are reaching voters already, negative economic messages about Trump are not breaking through. Democrats must spend time and money talking to voters about the issues that affect how middle-class families are able to not just survive, but get ahead.

Critically, our survey found that Trump is falling even farther behind with women across the demographic spectrum. In 2016 he was able to win in part because he was able to limit his losing margins with women. His inability to this point at repeating that is a key component of the Trump campaign’s decision to concentrate their efforts on trying to rally his extreme base.

Democrats’ focus moving forward should be to put our efforts behind localizing national economic issues, chipping away at Trump’s standing on the economy, and connecting the dots between Trump’s policies and voters’ feelings of being left behind in Trump’s economy.

Where We Stand

As is the case nationally, Trump is behind in this key swing state when it comes to both approval (44% approve/56% disapprove) and favorability (38% fav/54% unfav).  A majority (53%) of respondents said that what they had recently seen or heard from the president has caused them to feel less favorably toward him. He is especially unpopular with women, 59% of whom view him unfavorably, including 64% of white college-educated women, voters under 35 (56% unfavorable), independents (59% unfavorable), and voters in the Philadelphia area (60%).

But there are areas where Trump is performing better than his state-wide or national numbers. With men, he is viewed more favorably (45%, including 52% among non-college white men). Over two-thirds of Republicans still feel favorably towards the president (72% favorable, while another 15% feel unfavorable), and in key areas of the state, like the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York area, he is polling relatively strongly (53% favorable).

Voters report that the things they hear about Trump that make them feel more negatively about him include his inflammatory tweets (12%), his racism (11%), and the fact that he comes across as a bad person (6%). Significantly, negative news about Trump and the economy is not something voters are hearing about with regularity.

This all comes ahead of an election that promises to be one of extremely high engagement. 71% of voters said that they were highly motivated to vote in the 2020 elections, including 71% of Democrats and 73% for Republicans. And while we anticipate 2020 to have high turnout across the board, younger voters continue to lag on the question of motivation, with 67% identifying as highly motivated. Democrats in Pennsylvania must continue to focus on mobilizing key groups of voters in order to be successful in 2020.

Economic Strengths and Weaknesses 

More than half of respondents (51%) approve of the president’s handling of the economy, but looking beyond the macro economy gives a very different view of voters’ personal economic well-being. This is an important distinction that Democrats should continue to watch.

Despite general approval of Trump’s handling of the economy, many across Pennsylvania are not feeling the full benefits of what they would expect in an economic upturn. While about half of respondents are feeling satisfied with their economic situation, they aren’t seeing the full rewards that correspond with the booming economy they are hearing about.

Among those polled, only 23% saw the economy improving for themselves and their family, while 58% viewed the economy getting better for the wealthy. Only one in three voters in PA felt they had benefited from Trump’s economic policies, and only 39% of those polled said they had money left over to save after paying their monthly bills. Just shy of half (49%) of respondents said their income or wages were falling behind the cost of living, and 61% said the cost of health care is getting harder to afford. Additionally, 50% of respondents say that the things in the country over the past few years have changed for the worse, while only 40% said they have changed for the better. This should be extremely worrisome for the Trump campaign that must rely on fulfilling the promise of “Making America Great Again.”

Pennsylvanian women are even more likely to report struggling in Trump’s economy, with 58% saying their income is falling behind the cost of living, compared with 37% of men who say the same. Voters 65 and older (54%) and white women without a college degree (65%) were also more likely to say their income is falling behind the cost of living.

This spells out a clear opportunity for Democrats. While it is important that voters are exposed to the lack of morals, accountability, or stability Donald Trump brings to the oval office, these messages are already breaking through. The national media, and often Trump himself, are doing an effective job of communicating the personality flaws that make him unqualified for his job. Where Democrats should focus their paid communications is on connecting individuals’ personal hardships with the Trump administration’s policies and handling of the economy. We should gear paid and earned media activities towards connecting national Trump policies to the local kitchen table consequences people across the state are experiencing.

Voters’ Top Issues

Much like the 2018 cycle, when asked what issue was most important, health care rose to the top. Cited as the most important issue across all the battleground states, health care was the most frequently selected issue as being important to Pennsylvania voters and is particularly salient with voters 50 and over (54% selected it as a top issue) and Democrats (54% selected it). Notably, the top issue among Democrats was a tie between gun violence and health care, whereas Republicans prioritized health care, border security, immigration, and national security. Gun violence also was more likely to be chosen by voters in Philadelphia (41%) and voters 65 and older (49%). It should be noted that this survey was conducted soon after Dayton and El Paso, possibly raising the saliency of the issue in the short term.

When asked whether Trump’s handling of certain issues was a reason to elect Trump versus elect someone else, majorities cited the president’s management of race relations, health care, climate change, and gun violence as more of a reason to vote against him, rather than reelect him.


Garin-Hart-Yang and Global Strategy Group conducted this poll online August 13-25, 2019, with a total sample of 606 voters in Pennsylvania. The distribution of voters across demographic, geographic, and political factors reflect the expected composition of the 2020 electorate for Pennsylvania.