Lincoln * Institute

Lowman S. Henry

Lowman S. Henry

Chairman & CEO
Lincoln Institute
of Public Opinion Research

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Town Hall Commentary

Bellwether: PA Again Keystone State

by Lowman S. Henry
 

If early polls are any indication Pennsylvania is posed to be one of the major battleground states as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton enter the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign. Some polls give Mrs. Clinton a one to three point edge; others place Mr. Trump in the lead by the same margin. Both campaigned here pre-convention and voters likely will see a lot of the candidates and their running mates now that the general election phase of campaign is underway.

In political parlance Penn's woods can be viewed as one giant focus group. We are, in many ways, a microcosm of America. Philadelphia is a large eastern city; Pittsburgh is a mid-sized, mid-western city, with smaller cities like Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton and Allentown dotting the map. We have thriving suburbs in the collar counties outside of Philadelphia and in places like Washington and Westmoreland counties near Pittsburgh. And, of course we have vast rural expanses.

Pennsylvania is economically diverse as well. Manufacturing has struggled — as it has nationwide; but the commonwealth is home to high tech industries, pharmaceutical research, world-class medical centers, and thriving retail centers. We have abundant natural resources, especially gas reserves and coal; and fields overflowing with everything from apples to corn.

The diversity of our state's economy has shielded it from the outer fringes of economic booms and busts, but for a variety of reasons having to do with both federal and state public policy our business climate remains stagnant with slow growth causing frustration across the economic spectrum.

A rare point of agreement is that the nation is sharply divided on how to proceed. At times we can't even agree on what the problems are, much less arrive at a consensus on solutions. Against this backdrop, the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research surveyed delegates and alternate delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions to determine how big of a divide separates the two parties.

The delegations begin with polar opposite views on the role of government itself. When asked whether the federal government is an adversarial force when it comes to helping to solve problems, or is it a positive force in helping people 97% of the Republican delegation said government is an adversarial force. Democrats were almost evenly split on the question, with 52% viewing government as a positive force, and 48% saying it is adversarial.

There is disagreement on an even more fundamental question: whether we as Americans have natural rights that are God-given, or are our rights granted to us by government. Again, Republicans were nearly unanimous with 97% saying our rights come from God.

A majority of Democrats — 61% — think our rights are granted to us by government; 39% say our rights are God-given.

Pennsylvania's delegations to the Republican and Democratic national conventions have vastly different views as to which issues should top the national agenda with one exception: Supreme Court nominations. Both delegations place the selection of nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States on their lists of top three important issues. From there the delegations diverge. Republicans place the protecting of constitutional rights and ISIS/terrorism in their top three; Democrats are concerned about income inequality and the development of alternate energy sources.

As could be expected the delegations have sharply different views on the impact of the Obama Administration. For example, 70% of the Democratic delegation believes the administration's foreign policies have made America more secure; 99% of Republicans say they have made the nation less secure. Ninety percent of Democrats say the Obama approach to ISIS/international terrorism is on the right track; 100% of the Republican delegation said it is on the wrong track.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has made illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign for the presidency. Twenty-six percent of the Republican delegates/alternate delegates backed his call for banning all Muslims from entering the country; 64% support banning entry from countries that are hotbeds of terrorist activity. Not a single member of the Democratic delegation backed banning all Muslims with 97% saying current laws are sufficient.

Do the two delegations agree on anything? The closest they come to agreement is on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership. Here Democrats disagree with President Obama, who is the main proponent of the deal, with 69% opposing TPP. Sixty-one percent of the Republican delegation also opposes the free trade agreement.

The deep ideological and policy divisions among the state's delegations to their respective national conventions reflect the electorate at large. The battle for Pennsylvania will be hard fought between two vastly different views of where the nation is today and of America's future.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman/CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cites.