With just a few weeks before the midterm elections, all eyes are on Pennsylvania’s key senate and gubernatorial races as control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance.
In our latest Swing Voter Project focus groups, conducted online on October 11 with 13 Trump-to-Biden voters across Pennsylvania, we learned that despite months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent on ads, some are still undecided about whom they will support in these races.
In the governor’s race, eight respondents told us they will vote for Josh Shapiro and one will vote for Doug Mastriano, while four remain undecided. (Six respondents are Republicans, six are Democrats, and one is an Independent.) Given the very clear differences between these two candidates, we wanted to know why these four voters remain undecided at this stage of the campaign:
Amy, 42, from York, explained:
“I have only lived in Pennsylvania for a couple of years, so I don’t know enough about Shapiro. I did watch the Republican debate which Mastriano was part of, and his responses in the debate led me not to vote for him earlier this year. He wouldn’t have been my Republican candidate of choice as it is. Then, all of the ads and information that has come out since then has just led me to not want to vote for [Mastriano]. [I’m not planning to vote for Shapiro at this point because] I just want to make sure that my vote goes to the person I believe can do the best job and I just need to find out more about Shapiro vs. not voting for anyone. I need to know more about [Shapiro’s] politics, and his stance on the things that are important to me, which are crime and the economy right now.”
“I’m still undecided, I guess,” commented Joshua, 25, from Palmerton. “I haven’t looked into any third parties yet, but I don’t really like Mastriano. I just think he’s a bit too extreme. My fears with Shapiro are just that he’ll be too much like [the current governor Tom] Wolf. I’m not really against [Shapiro] as of yet, but I definitely am against Mastriano.”
Meanwhile, Bob, 44, from Lansdale, explained his strategic decision-making:
“I don’t think this race is going to be close…I won’t vote for Mastriano. I may vote for Shapiro, but if he’s too far off in what I believe in, I just won’t vote [in that race]. If it were a very tight race, I would vote for Shapiro…. If it’s not tight, I don’t know. I mean, I may not vote for Shapiro, but I wouldn’t vote for Mastriano. I just wouldn’t vote, or [I’d] write some third party candidate in…. I may not like a lot of Shapiro’s issues, and I probably don’t. I mean, I don’t like a lot of Biden’s issues, but it was a protest vote for me against Trump, and I knew it’d be a close race. And so I don’t want to pull a lever for a protest candidate if I don’t have to.”
At the other end of the candidate, familiarity spectrum was Ullanda, 42, from Philadelphia. “I’m undecided because I don’t know too much about Mastriano,” she said. “Shapiro – I’ve heard some things, but I’m undecided because again, I still don’t know enough about what he’s going to contribute. I think I’ve seen some [TV ads] for Shapiro, but I can’t recall exactly what the details were.”
In the U.S. Senate race, meanwhile, nine will vote for John Fetterman, two will vote for Mehmet Oz, and two remain undecided, noting their lack of interest in voting for either of the top candidates.
“[I would vote for] neither one [between Oz and Fetterman]. I’d have to look at the third candidates. I would either vote for a third candidate or vote for none – leave it blank,” remarked Casey, 53, from Altoona.
Ullanda from Philadelphia was similarly noncommittal in the senate race. “I wouldn’t vote for either one because I don’t know enough about them at this present time as far as what they have to offer…so I would probably need to wait for the third candidate or vote for none.”
As is typical among swing voters, they often arrive at similar conclusions, but for a variety of reasons.
The Swing Voter Project and this focus group discussion was featured in a recent Washington Post article, which you can read here.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with the Schlesinger Group. Matt Steffee is vice president of research services at Engagious.