May 1 2006

What will be on the minds of voters when they go to the polls this month and in November? IssuesPA asked Pennsylvanians in the April 2006 IssuesPA/Pew poll. They weighed in on those who govern, how they're doing, and what government costs.

(May 2006) What do Pennsylvanians think about state and local governance issues, their elected leaders, and more? IssuesPA asked 1,500 Pennsylvania adults for their thoughts in the April 2006 IssuesPA/Pew poll. The answers should make policymakers and candidates pay close attention.

How do Pennsylvanians really feel about the state legislators?

They hold them in low esteem. As some incumbent legislators face a tough primary this month and perhaps a challenging race in November, Pennsylvanians responding to the recent poll had mostly bad comments about the legislature. When asked for a one-word description that best describes the legislature, the largest number of respondents said, “Greedy.” Although their top 10 list included some positive or neutral words like “good,” “okay” and “fair,” the remainder clearly were negative.

   One-Word Descriptions of State Legislature



 # of Mentions










 4 (tie)



 4 (tie)









 8 (tie)



 8 (tie)



 10 (tie



  10 (tie)



According to the new poll, only about a quarter (26%) of those interviewed said they can trust the legislature to do what’s right just about always or most of the time. Nearly seven in 10 (67%) said the legislature can be trusted only some of the time or never.

However, incumbents may be heartened to know that Pennsylvanians had somewhat better regard for their own state representative than for the legislature as a whole. When asked whether they can trust their own representative or senator, respondents replied with more confidence (state representative: 42% can trust all or most of the time/48% cannot trust; state senator: 38% can trust all or most of the time/51% cannot trust).

What else is on the minds of Pennsylvanians in 2006?

Reform. Although the fury over the legislative pay raise has waned somewhat, there’s lingering anger. Two-thirds (66%) of Pennsylvanians polled said an incumbent legislator’s vote on the pay raise should be a very important issue in this year’s elections. And over one-third (36%) said an incumbent’s vote on the pay raise should be more important than issues such as campaign finance reform, opening up the legislative process, and lobbying reform.

There’s more. Solid majorities among those surveyed said campaign finance reform (60%) and further opening up the campaign process (56%) are very important issues for voters to consider this year, and about half (51%) said lobbying reform should be very important. But they gave proposals to decrease the size of the legislature a lower priority (31% very important).

Other issues?

Concerned about taxes and distrustful of the legislature, those responding to the poll said they want to put state spending in the spotlight. When asked to identify how important are certain issues that might affect the performance of state and local government in Pennsylvania, they went straight to the bottom line: money.

Three-quarters (75%) said candidates’ positions on how to best control state spending was very important. An additional 22% said the issue is somewhat important in determining their vote. Second on voters’ list are the candidates’ positions on restructuring the state and local tax system, rated very important by 62%. About half (52%) said helping cities and towns solve their financial problems should be very important.

There are differences in priority by party and region. Republicans most often put controlling spending at the top of their list (44%), while just 25% put restructuring taxes first. In contrast, Democrats had no clear number one priority – 29% said restructuring the tax system should be most important, 27% said controlling spending should matter most, and another 18% said they preferred a third option of helping cities and towns solve their financial problems.

Philadelphia voters surveyed and those in surrounding suburban counties of southeastern Pennsylvania differed sharply in their priorities regarding governance-related issues. Those in Philadelphia said helping cities and towns with their financial problems is the top issue about as often as controlling state spending (24% and 28%, respectively) and put restructuring the tax system third (17%). In contrast, suburban southeastern Pennsylvania voters said controlling state spending the clear number one issue (41%), followed by restructuring taxes (29%).

Who should pay for State Police protecting local communities?

Despite pressure to control state spending and keep taxes down, there wasn’t much public support for requiring local communities relying on state police for protection to pay for this service. The poll found under a third (29%) said local communities should pay. Close to two-thirds (63%) said state government should continue to provide this service for free. There were no significant differences on this question based on a respondent’s political party. Majorities of Republicans (65%), Democrats (61%), and Independents (64%) all opted for the status quo.

Opposition to making local communities pay was highest in the less densely populated regions of the state. Seven in 10 residents in the south central (69%), northeast (69%), and “the rest of the state” (70%) said communities shouldn’t have to pay, compared with six in 10 residents of the southeast (57%) and southwest (59%). Support for charging local communities a fee is highest among college graduates (41%) and those with household incomes of $75,000 or more (38%).

Bottom line? More people than ever before seem to be paying attention to their state elected officials. Are their elected officials paying attention to them?