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F&M Poll: COVID-19 Returns as PA Voters' Big Concern

COVID-19 has again surged to the top of voters' concerns after nearly flattening in June, according to the most recent Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

The 17% of respondents who say the virus is Pennsylvania's most important problem reflects the massive surge in COVID infection rates nationally, but particularly in the South, since the last survey in June when 7% said it was a major concern. In March, 31% of voters registered their concern about coronavirus.

The poll, conducted of registered voters between Aug. 9-15, shows that other leading concerns for voters were government and politicians, 20%, down 10 points from the June poll; and the economy (including unemployment and personal finances), 13%, down slightly from 15% in June.

For the right-direction/wrong-track question, 37% of voters say Pennsylvania is headed in the right direction while 53% say it's on the wrong track, essentially unchanged since the June poll.

"There's clearly something going on," F&M Poll Director Berwood Yost said. "I think it's COVID here, but there's also a general sense that the U.S. is on the wrong track."

Gov. Tom Wolf's job approval rating is 41%, similar to the 39% in June. The same percentage of Pennsylvanians believe President Joe Biden is doing an "excellent" or "good" job, a slight decline from the 44% he received in June.

"[Biden] hung his hat on getting COVID under control, which it was in July; now it's not," Yost said. "That sort of dissonance with some people is an issue."

According to Yost, for the first time in the history of the F&M Poll, "a notable portion of voters" (4%) mentioned "election integrity" as one of the state's pressing issues.

"It's a direct product of some people believing the lies that are being told and endlessly repeated," Yost said.

To the question of who they voted for in 2020, Biden or Donald Trump, 50% of poll respondents said Biden, 48% said Trump and 2% said another candidate.

In response to the question of whether it would be "good" for American democracy if the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, happened after every election, 85% said it would be bad, 9% said they did not know and 6% said it would be good.

"Nobody believes that Jan. 6 was a healthy event," Yost said.

In next year's U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is, at the moment, the first or second choice for 30% of Democrats with U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb following at 14%. The Republican primary field is virtually open with Sean Parnell, who tried to unseat Lamb in 2020, at 10%; Kathy Barnette, veteran and conservative commentator, 8%; and Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer and a 2018 lieutenant governor candidate, at 7%.

For more about primary elections in general, including why there are so many candidates in primaries, check out the F&M Poll's May 2021 newsletter.

The F&M Poll, like all surveys, is a snapshot of a specific point in time, not a forecast. All polls have variability; voters change their minds; and events after a survey can sometimes influence voters' decisions, including whether to vote at all.

Conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at F&M, the poll reflects interviews with 446 Pennsylvania likely voters, including 207 Democrats, 173 Republicans and 66 independents. The sample error is plus or minus 6.4 percentage points.

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