By Erin Maxwell || Editor-in-Chief
At 7 a.m. on November 8th, Pennsylvania voters will be able to make their voices heard in what is being considered one of the most important races this midterm season. As Professor Stephen K. Medvic emphasized to students at the F&M Votes launch on the 13th, the midterms are almost always bad for the incumbent party. This means that Democrats will likely lose seats in the House and Senate, and with an already slim margin in the Senate, they will likely lose party control as well.
In the past few decades, midterms have become increasingly focused on national issues as opposed to state matters. This cycle, predictions that the overturning of Roe v. Wade and inflation will be the most salient issues have been supported by polling results, including those from F&M’s own Center for Opinion Research. Another important predictor is President Biden’s approval rating, which has suffered due to the ailing economy and the efforts of the Republican party to make that the centerpiece of their criticisms against him.
In most elections, the electorate’s perception of the economy is the most important predictor of outcomes. (See: James Carville’s famous 1992 quote, “It’s the economy, stupid!”) F&M’s poll found that “concerns about the economy (27%), including unemployment, personal finances, and gas prices, remain the most important problems facing Pennsylvania according to voters” (F&M, 2022). It is also important to note that generally, the economy’s health at the beginning of the year, or the perception of its health, is a better explainer of the outcomes of midterms than its health in the fall. So, where the economy was early this year, pre-Inflation Reduction Act, might set the stage for how voters feel about the current administration and its party.
The intense impact of an issue other than the economy isn’t unprecedented, but certainly unusual. This year, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a move that was largely unpopular with the majority of Americans, will stake out an important role in the decision-making process. Many political analysts have suggested that this may backfire on the Republican party, especially with the promises for near-total bans with little provision for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s health. F&M found that 59% of voters “oppose amending the state constitution to say there is no constitutional right to abortion in the state,” reflecting this unpopularity (F&M, 2022).
Even with national issues framing the election, the candidates and their personalities have truly taken the spotlight. For governor, it’s a race between Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s current attorney general, and Republican Doug Mastriano. Shapiro is a lifetime politician and spent his time as attorney general investigating pharmaceutical companies in connection with the opioid epidemic as well as the abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. He has made promises to protect the right to abortion, expand automatic voter registration, and set aggressive climate action goals. On the other side, Mastriano, who was at the Capitol on January 6th, has “twice introduced legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, and does not support exceptions for rape, incest, or parental health” (PBS News, 2022). He also has made plans to wipe voting rosters and force every PA voter to re-register, pull the state out of the RGGI program to cut carbon emissions, and enact universal ID laws to restrict voting. Though he rejects most requests for interviews from mainstream media sources, he has made his stance against same-sex marriage and accommodations for transgender students clear. According to PBS News, Mastriano “likened teaching about LGBTQ people in schools to pedophilia” on his Twitter page, giving fuel to extremist rhetoric. According to F&M’s analysis, Shapiro currently polls at 44% over Mastriano’s 33%. FiveThirtyEight places Shapiro at 51.2%, and Mastriano at 40.7%.
Democrat John Fetterman and Trump-endorsed candidate Republican Mehmet Oz face off in the Senate race, with intense rhetoric blasting from either side. Fetterman’s campaign has branded Oz an out-of-touch, out-of-stater, while Fetterman has been labeled as too sick to serve by the opposing campaign. Oz, unlike his fellow Republican Mastriano, has distanced himself from election fraud claims, and though he favors an abortion ban, would support exceptions for the aforementioned extreme cases. Still, the celebrity doctor is adamantly pro-life, and has advocated for election “security,” expanded Second Amendment rights and anti-immigration measures. On the other side of the aisle, Fetterman’s no-nonsense approach to “holding Washington accountable,” which looks like tax and health care reform, the fight against price gouging, and a ban on Congress’s stock trade, has so far resonated with voters. However, a stroke earlier this year has sapped his campaigning ability while giving the Oz campaign ammunition to attack his fitness for office.
With Biden’s speech emphasizing the fragility of American democracy fresh in the minds of many, these races come with a tangible weight, especially when considering that the elected governor will oversee the certification of the 2024 presidential election. In a reliable swing state, these races may be the key determinants in securing control of the House and Senate, and thus shaping the country post-Roe.
If you want to be registered in Pennsylvania and eligible to vote at the Lancaster Seminary this November, contact Jessica Haile at: email@example.com. (For F&M students only)
To see the full F&M Center for Opinion Research polling, click here.
Erin Maxwell is a senior, and the Editor-in-Chief for The College Reporter. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.