Harper Poll: Corbett, Sestak Lead Guv Primaries

Sestak Corbett
Joe Sestak, left, and Tom Corbett

The latest numbers from Harper Polling show Gov. Tom Corbett in command of a hypothetical Republican primary, although he falls just shy of the 50% mark.

He leads Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor 49% to 21% among likely Republican voters with 30% not sure.

For an incumbent governor facing the guarantee of a tough general election fight, it’s unwelcome news. The findings of this poll match those of a January Quinnipiac survey that found only 49% of Republicans thought Corbett deserves re-election. His approval rating was 41% among Republicans according to a February Franklin and Marshall poll.

It’s the second poll of the GOP primary. Public Policy Polling found in early January that Corbett lead Castor 51% to 11%.

The gender gap that has hurt Corbett’s approval ratings for months stung him in this poll, too. While the Governor lead by 41% among men (61% to 20%), he wins women 36% to 22%, a margin a third the size.

Harper polled 274 Republicans and 292 Democrats via interactive voice response dials from Feb. 27 to 28. The margin of error is plus or minus nearly 6% for Republicans and Democrats.

It’s important to note that in a poll with a relatively small sample size of decided Republicans, the margin of error is much higher in the cross tabulations like the ones that follow (breakdowns along age, geographic regions, etc). Nonetheless, it’s interesting to read the tea leaves.

The numbers seem to offer no special meaning for Castor beyond his role as an alternative to Corbett.

Indeed, geographically speaking, Castor’s home base in southeast Pa. does not offer him a boost. He takes 21% there just as he does statewide. Corbett’s base in southwest Pa. is more favorable to the incumbent. He leads there by 39 points, 52% to 13%. Castor is strongest in the State College/north central region (Penn State country, interestingly). There he has 30% to Corbett’s 45%.

Castor is most competitive among voters ages 18 to 35, where the two men are tied at 34%. Corbett’s strongest age range is the 46 to 55 bracket (56% to 18%).

Corbett leads among self-identified ‘very conservative’ voters 59% to 19% and ‘somewhat conservative’ voters 53% to 19%, while Castor leads among moderates (41% to 26%) and liberals (50% to 0%)* That result also echoes the PPP poll, which showed Castor similarly strong among moderate and liberal Republicans. It contradicts the actual contours of the campaign thus far, in which Castor has endeavored to run to Corbett’s right on numerous issues.

*That 0% is a good example of how the small sample size means that cross tabs are less meaningful.

Democratic primary

Former Congressman and 2010 Senate candidate Joe Sestak leads with 20% statewide, followed by Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz at 19%. Sestak has made only vague statements about the possibility he might run. Schwartz appears by all intents and purposes to be moving toward a bid.

Pa. Treasurer Rob McCord came in third with 7%, followed by Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox at 3%. Two cabinet secretaries from the Rendell administration took 1% each: DEP Sec. John Hanger and Revenue Sec. Tom Wolf. Hanger has declared his candidacy; each of the others has indicated strong interest.

It’s the first head to head poll of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and with May 2014 a full 14 months away, it’s little surprise that 50% of voters are undecided. As with the Republicans, a sample size of 146 decided voters means that the margin of error will be much higher in the cross tabs – a towering 8%. Thus the margins aren’t extraordinarily significant (except perhaps SEPA, where there were fewer undecideds).

4 of the 6 share a geographic base: southeast Pa. In that region, Schwartz has a strong lead. She takes 44% compared to just 17% for Sestak, 4% for McCord and 1% for Knox.

Sestak took at least 21% in each other region of the state except northwest Pa.; his strongest region was the Lehigh Valley at 33%.

McCord pulled 13% in northwest Pa., Knox took 11% in northeast Pa., Hanger won 5% in northeast Pa., and Wolf got 3% in south central.

The poll shows a big opening for a western Pa. Democrat to jump into the race. The highest numbers of undecideds by region were west of the Susquehanna River: northwest (80% undecided), southwest (59%), south central (58%) and north central (56%).

Women went for Schwartz over Sestak 20% to 17%; men went for Sestak 23% to 16%. Sestak lead among seniors 66 and older with 23% to Schwartz’s 12%. He also won self-identified liberals, 25% to Schwartz’s 23%.

10 Responses

  1. the guy who said schwartz won’t do well in NEPA is really dumb. its one of the most democratic areas in the whole state.

  2. A poll with a very small sample size, from a new firm with very limited polling experience in Pennsylvania, more than a year before the primary, before any serious candidate has spent money or even declared (John Hanger thinks he is a serious candidate, but nobody but his few supporters will agree) is worth nothing.

  3. Wow…Joe Sestak i s l e…Zzzzzzzzz…sorry, dozed off at the mere mention of his name.

  4. Okay… I know you’ve all been waiting for me to weigh in… 🙂

    The poll results simply reflect name recognition.

    Corbett is ahead of Castor, because no one outside of SEPA has ever heard of him.

    As for Sestak, this poll is actually bad news for him… here’s why:

    In SEPA, where all the leading candidates are, Schwartz has double Sestak plus McCord, plus Knox combined [44 = 2*(17+4+1) ]

    Sestak has much greater name recognition outside of SEPA than Schwartz. Sestak probably has 80% name recognition among Dems outside of SEPA, and Schwartz probably has 30% (if that much).

    So, the poll shows a high rejection of a known name like Sestak, and high undecided for unknowns like Schwartz.

    Remember, Sestak was over 30 points behind Specter when he entered the race, because Sestak was completely unknown outside of SEPA.

    Once Schwartz spends a few dollars to get her name out among the Dems in the rest of the state, this poll will wind up mirroring SEPA.

    She’s got a $3 million head start on fundraising over Sestak, and can’t be attacked as a Republican turncoat like Specter was.

    While I’m sure Sestak’s ego got a woody this morning over the headline, the numbers show that Sestak has peaked and Schwartz is just getting started.

  5. Joe Sestak would be the stronger General Election Canidate. Schwartz will not do well in NEPA or South West PA. But Ed Rendell Proved in 2002 you can still win if run up the votes in SEPA. I see Joe as the kind of guy who could carry Bucks, Monroe, Montco, Centre countys. They flip in elections not so much Montco anymore. I think Corbett could paint her as a Left Wing Femminst and it will stick. I am center right I hate Corbett but I am not comfortable with Schwartz and will not vote for. I don’t like her brand of poltics. To bad Casey wont run.

  6. McCord appears to have his work cut out for him given the fact he’s been elected statewide twice and yet is only polling at 7%. Right now you have to label him as a 2nd-Tier candidate. All early signs indicate the race for the Democratic nomination will come down to Schwartz vs. Sestak. Given that they’re neck and neck with 50% undecided my bet is that women will women will break for Schwartz which is whom I prefer because she’s the most progressive option between the two.

    I’m looking forward to Schwartz vs. Corbett in the General Election.

  7. Well, this poll tells me the race is neck and neck. Sestak hasn’t even announced his candidacy. Swartz is pretty much all in at this point by resigning her fundraising position.

    Also, you can’t count McCord out either. He can raise a TON of money. Anyone not named Sestak, Swartz or McCord will only waste their time in the Guv’s race.

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