PA Battleground Has Broader Insights for the U.S. Election
Getting a clear picture of voter sentiment and social trends is tricky in a large and diverse country such as the U.S. Drilling down to the state level can provide nuanced views of voters’ concerns and how political parties are positioning themselves.
On January 31st, BFA held a webinar with expert panelists in the battleground commonwealth of Pennsylvania to hear insights on the state’s electoral landscape where both major parties will invest substantial resources in an effort to win the state’s 19 electoral votes.
Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy at Franklin & Marshall College, shared some topline findings on voter sentiment in the state. In a poll released this week, Yost explained that although the state’s registered voters are generally pessimistic about the economy and the direction of the state, these sentiments are starting to move in a more positive direction.
“There are a lot of people who tell us, maybe next year is going to be better. They’re starting to see an improvement. If not necessarily right now in their own personal wallet, they’re expecting things to get better. We are starting to see a change in sentiment among voters.” These feelings, he suggested, might bode well for President Biden.
Regarding trends in voter engagement, Dana Brown, executive director at the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, shared that the PA Republican Party is moving to embrace mail-in voting again and messaging that directly to their candidates and county party chairs.
“Both sides of the aisle had typically been utilizing mail-in voting until quite recently. Now we do have this bit of ‘red mirage’ and ‘blue wave’ scenario. Republicans have realized that relying just on same-day voting might be a challenge for them on Election Day, and that it would behoove them to embrace the vote-by-mail option… Whether it’s women candidates or male candidates, both parties should start messaging that and building it into their campaign plans.”
Brown continued to highlight the increased impact that women are making in the PA political landscape. “More than a decade ago, about 15 percent of the state legislature were women. Now it is about 32 percent… That means that women who have been serving are now moving into leadership positions while getting identified for choice committee seats, which then leads them to other opportunities and leadership. So we are definitely seeing growth and an excitement around women’s leadership and also normalizing it.” Women, she noted, vote in far higher numbers than do men.
David J. Becker, executive director and founder at the Center for Election Innovation & Research, shared his perspectives on election trust and engaging voters. “In between the 2016 and 2020 elections, there was a massive improvement in the way that Pennsylvania conducts elections… Every single voter in Pennsylvania now votes on a paper ballot which is auditable and recountable. The technology that counts those ballots is more reliable than it was before.”
Despite that, the panelists agreed that some voters will continue to mistrust the integrity of the election system. Becker said we should expect overt efforts to confuse voters via mis- and disinformation that’s aimed at discouraging certain demographics from casting a ballot.
“No matter how much disinformation is out there, there are very high levels of confidence among voters in their own jurisdiction, usually in their own county. Trust decreases at the state level and much further at the national level. The farther away you get from an election process, the less confidence you have. Those who would try to incite political violence and chaos know this. It’s really important for people to understand that even though states have different rules, different machines, and somewhat different processes, the same integrity measures apply everywhere.”
Yost added, “Our findings confirm that most people will tell you that they’re confident in the way that the votes are counted in their local areas and in their counties.”
All of the panelists agreed that the best strategy for business to engage employees in voting and elections is to keep it local. As things get nationalized, they become more abstract. Becker suggests that companies encourage their employees to volunteer as poll workers.
Brown suggested that PA companies might focus on local issues and local elections as a way to help their employees see the importance of their role in elections. Doing so can create a more civically knowledgeable public to help combat some of the mistrust and misinformation that the state has seen in the past.