Politics

Economy, abortion shape Pennsylvania midterm races — CBS News Battleground Tracker

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman leads Mehmet Oz by five points among Pennsylvania’s likely voters, in a Senate race that seems still fluid, with Republicans less enamored by the candidates they nominated, and Democrats fighting economic headwinds. It’s a race in which voters are thinking about the national implications, even as it is the candidates’ personal qualities that have come to the fore.

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An authenticity gap

Most voters describe Fetterman as saying what he really believes, more so than they describe Oz doing so. A big majority describe Oz as just saying what he thinks voters want to hear.

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Couple that with the critiques of Oz’s Pennsylvania residency and its implications: two-thirds don’t think he’s lived in the state long enough to understand its issues. Oz trails Fetterman on having “the right experience,” as well as on personal favorability ratings. In fact, most Oz supporters say they are backing him mainly to oppose Fetterman, and not because they like Oz.

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And despite the fact that Oz has only recently forayed into politics, it’s Fetterman who is seen more as “representing change.”

Meanwhile, the Oz campaign’s efforts to raise health questions about Fetterman do not seem as effective by comparison: most voters do think Fetterman is well enough to serve. (Even nearly four in 10 Republicans say he is.)

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The primary process: Any buyer’s remorse for the GOP?

Democrats express more satisfaction about nominating Fetterman than Republicans do about nominating Oz. (That’s also true for the candidates in the governor’s race.)

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It is non-MAGA Republicans (those who don’t consider themselves part of the movement) who are more disappointed about Oz as their nominee than MAGA Republicans.

These same non-MAGA Republicans don’t see their Senate vote as being about former President Donald Trump to the same extent that MAGA Republicans do. So, perhaps Trump’s endorsement of Oz doesn’t carry as much weight. And indeed, non-MAGA Republicans are not quite as supportive of Oz as their MAGA counterparts.

Fetterman’s backers are more enthusiastic about him than Oz’s supporters are about Oz.

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Issues in focus: The economy 

The economy and inflation remain atop the overall issues list, and that helps Oz — like Republicans nationwide, he does better with voters who rank these highly. That’s partly because they’re the party out of power, and because Republicans prioritize the economy more.

Eight in 10 Pennsylvania voters say higher prices have been difficult or a hardship for them. Lower-income Pennsylvanians are especially hard-hit.

In fact, among independents, Oz’s showing is a little better among those who describe price increases as difficulty or hardship.

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Abortion

The abortion issue is helping Fetterman. For his Democratic base, abortion is more important than the economy. Fetterman leads among all who say it’s very important, both men and women.

Most Democrats say the overturning of Roe v. Wade has made them more likely to vote this year. (The matter makes no difference to most Republicans.)

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A national election in a state

So much for “all politics is local.” By three to one, Pennsylvanians tell us that national issues and the direction of the country are more important to them than local issues when it comes to the Senate election. Fitting, perhaps, as all eyes of the nation are on the state.

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So, national figures play a big role – including Trump

Pennsylvania Democrats say their vote for Senate is as much to oppose Donald Trump as it is to support President Joe Biden.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans are motivated to oppose Joe Biden. But a sizable four in 10 Republicans say their Senate vote is also to support Donald Trump.

Beyond Republicans, though, Trump nets out as a negative race-wide: for all voters for whom Trump is a factor – either through support or opposition – they are on balance picking Fetterman over Oz.

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Democracy and…not as much desire for election denialism 

Joe Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020. A stance taken by some Republicans in their 2022 primaries, that Mr. Biden did not legitimately win the presidency, is not a stance most voters want their elected officials to embrace. 

Only a third of the state’s Republicans — and just under a fifth of its voters — want elected officials in the state to claim Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election.

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An eight-in-10, bipartisan majority of voters would like to see the next secretary of state — who would be appointed by the governor — make election rules that are neutral toward both parties, and not favor either one.

All that may signal that even for Republicans, now past the primaries, those stances aren’t the same litmus tests. 

Debating the debate

Yes, a debate is at least somewhat important to voters, though not very important to most. Given the stances from the campaigns, it may be no surprise that Republicans think it’s more important than Democrats do.

For the Republicans who tend to think Fetterman is not in good enough health, a debate has — perhaps strategically — taken on added importance.

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Governor’s race

Of the four major-party candidates running for Senate and governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro has the highest personally favorable ratings of all. That, combined with strong support from women, has him up 11 points on Republican Doug Mastriano.

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Shapiro has a wide lead among voters who say abortion should be legal in Pennsylvania — which is most voters. That includes support from about a third of Republicans who feel it should be legal. Meanwhile, more than eight in 10 voters believe Mastriano would restrict access in Pennsylvania.

Plus there may be some “buyer’s remorse” lingering from the primaries about Mastriano from Republicans, as four in 10 wish their party had nominated a different candidate.

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So what is local, then? Plenty, still.

Crime, gun violence, and drug and opioid addiction are all seen by most as problems in their area of Pennsylvania.

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Republicans add in that illegal immigration is a problem in their area; this is the case for Republicans across the state. Democrats especially feel that racism, access to healthcare, and school conditions are problems in their areas.

Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats cite housing costs as a problem.


This CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker survey was conducted with a statewide representative sample of 1,194 registered voters in Pennsylvania interviewed between September 6-12, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education and geographic region based on the U.S. Census Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±3.8 points. 

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