Election 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 9 points in Franklin & Marshall College’s first general election poll, with nearly three-quarters of polled registered voters saying they are very interested in the 2020 election.

Biden is leading Trump in several Pennsylvania and national polls, including by 6.2 points in the RealClear Politics state poll and 8.4 points in its national poll. 

But Pennsylvania -- a major battleground state in the 2020 election -- is nowhere near decided. Former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was leading in the Franklin & Marshall College poll by 11 points approximately 100 days out from the 2016 election. There are 96 days until Election Day on Nov. 3.

G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and analyst at the college’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, said he’s confident that this poll reflects the majority opinion of Pennsylvanians at this point in time, noting the other polls like RealClear Politics showing similar margins for Biden. Madonna said the center  has explained how it got Pennsylvania’s vote in 2016 wrong. The polling results, predicting a Clinton win, were an error because of how many people made their candidate decisions  within 10 days of the election, Madonna said.

Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is one of the reasons Madonna said he believes Biden is leading Pennsylvania, with 32% of Pennsylvanians noting the pandemic as the No. 1 problem facing the state, and only 29% of voters believe that he has handled the pandemic well.

“One of the major factors in why Biden has the lead has to do with the uptick of coronavirus [cases] in the last couple of weeks,” Madonna added.

While this is the first poll of the general election, it is also the first poll in which Franklin & Marshall College has surveyed Pennsylvanians about the personal and financial impact COVID-19 has had on them.

Franklin & Marshall polled 667 Pennsylvania registered voters, including 324 Democrats, 271 Republicans and 72 independents, according to the poll's findings.

A majority of Pennsylvanians across political ideologies are following coronavirus mitigation strategies, including wearing masks and avoiding close contact with people with whom they do not reside. Two in three voters believe it’s “extremely important” to wear a mask whenever they leave home, although there are some ideological differences with only 46% of conservatives polled who define masks as crucial, as opposed to 85% of liberals and 78% of moderates.

One in five Pennsylvanians has had a family member of a close friend contract coronavirus, according to the poll.

While Gov. Tom Wolf has received much criticism in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic from Republicans and business owners, Wolf’s favorability rating ticked up slightly to 52% from the March 2019 poll. The number of people who believe that Wolf is doing a “poor” job also increased by 11 percentage points.

Madonna said there’s an important debate about how quickly the state should reopen, but Wolf has remained uncontroversial throughout his time in office.

“He’s not contentious,” Madonna added. “He doesn’t go and attack his opponents, he has a very different style.”

Although Biden is leading Trump in the poll, two in five Pennsylvanians believe Trump is doing an “excellent” or “good” job as president, with 45% of voters crediting him for creating jobs.

Voters react

Paul Heisey Jr., 64, an independent voter who lives in Pequea that participated in the poll, said he has voted for Trump and Wolf in past elections. He will likely vote for Trump again, he said.

The coronavirus response does not play into Heisey’s voting decisions at all, he said. 

“I’m respectful of other people, I wear the mask, but I don’t let it control my life,” he added.

While he plans to vote for Trump again in November, he believes Wolf has been “playing politics” during the coronavirus response by not being consistent in his executive orders, like his decision to restrict bars and restaurants without releasing the data that backs up his decision.

“I realize that nobody really knows what to do because it’s a new virus, but on the other hand if you’re not going to shut down Walmarts or Home Depots because you can’t afford to lose the revenue… Why is it fair to target the little guy?”

Suzanne Anderson, 89, a Democratic voter who lives in Elizabethtown that participated in the poll, said she supported Clinton in 2016 and will vote for Biden. She said her “dislike” for Trump began way before the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m scared to death having [Trump] as president internationally most of all, and nationally,” Anderson said.

Anderson, who lives in a retirement community with very few coronavirus cases, said she believes Wolf has been “a very good, steady hand,” in the governor’s office.

She and Heisey both said they do not know anyone who has contracted the virus.

“The hardest part and the biggest impact for the elderly in the coronavirus pandemic is that we realize how vulnerable we are,” Anderson said. “We are awfully lonely because there’s so little movement for us. That’s fine -- we do this willingly, but at the same time, we’re lonely.”

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