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Who is Going to Vote Next Week?

We look at the October 2023 poll to find out what it can tell us about potential voter turnout in the upcoming municipal election, including which party is favored.

Berwood A Yost
4 min read

Dear Readers,

This month we review some data about expected voter turnout in the 2023 municipal election derived from our October poll. Our analysis suggests that Republicans will be more likely to vote than Democrats, and the electorate is likely to be more conservative than the pool of registered voters as a whole. Increased advertising since our interviewing was completed could boost interest and turnout above the levels we found in our survey, which ended more than two weeks prior to Election Day. It would be good news if our turnout estimate is too low.

Thank you for reading,

Berwood Yost

What Are You Talking About?

In April 2022, only one in six (16%) registered voters correctly identified Max Baer as the then Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Not a surprise perhaps, but a clear indicator of our collective lack of knowledge about a branch of government that affects state policy and our daily lives as much as the governor and legislature. 

Our disinterest in the judicial branch is also evident in the current campaign to elect a new Supreme Court justice: More than seven in ten registered voters “don’t know enough" about Democrat Daniel McCaffery (76%) or Republican Carolyn Carluccio (71%) to have formed an opinion about them, according to our most recent survey.

Such is the sad state of our municipal election campaigns. The last two state Supreme Court elections, held in 2021 and 2017, both led to narrow Republican victories where 32% and 25% of the state’s registered voters, respectively, turned out to vote. The most recently elected Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices gained office with the support of only one in seven registered voters.

These collective bits of data highlight the need to reconsider how Supreme Court justices are selected, but there’s not enough space here to enumerate the various options we might seriously consider.

Another thing these collective bits of data show is that partisan turnout patterns will be the most important factor in determining who wins the seat. Voters tend to rely on their party as a voting cue during any election, and their reliance on party increases the less they know about those running for office.

What Does the Pool of Likely Voters Look Like?

Conventional wisdom suggests that voters who prefer the party out of power in Washington are more motivated to vote in municipal elections, so current expectations are that Republican turnout will exceed turnout among Democrats. Patterns in voter registration over the past year, showing that Republicans have whittled the Democrats’ voter registration advantage in the state from about 550,000 voters to about 450,000, support the idea that Republicans will have a turnout advantage.[1]

Data from the latest Franklin & Marshall College Poll also suggest that Republicans are currently more likely to vote than are Democrats, and that the electorate is likely to be more conservative than registered voters as a whole. Based on respondents’ expressions of interest in the election, their self-reported likelihood of voting, and past voting in municipal elections, it appears that turnout will be about 30% of registered voters, give or take a few percentage points.[2] Turnout in this range would be in line with recent municipal elections.

Table 1 compares selected political and attitudinal characteristics for those who are most likely to vote with all registered voters. Politically, more than half (51%) of likely voters are self-identified Republicans while only 40% identify as Democrats. For both Republicans and Democrats, the largest proportions consider themselves strong partisans. Two in five (40%) likely voters are conservatives and only one in five (20%) identifies as liberal. The partisan and ideological balance of likely voters is clearly more Republican and conservative than the total pool of registered voters.

This partisan and ideological balance produces a pool of likely voters who express more conservative policy positions. A greater share of likely voters than registered voters more strongly oppose gay marriage and defunding crisis pregnancy centers, and more strongly support bathroom bills that require transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their sex at birth. More likely voters than registered voters also believe that abortion should be illegal at all times. The behavior of self-described independents and moderates is the wildcard in this election cycle. Will concern about abortion rights be front of mind for these voters as it was in the midterm election, or will partisanship win out?

Table 1. Selected Political and Attitudinal Characteristics of Registered and Likely Voters in Pennsylvania’s 2023 Municipal Election (Column Percentages)

 

All Voters

(n=873)

 Likely Voters 
(n=258)

Party Self-Identification

 

   Strong Republican 

22

30

   Republican 

9

5

   Lean Republican 

15

16

   Independent 

9

8

   Lean Democrat 

12

7

   Democrat 

10

5

   Strong Democrat 

22

28

 Political Ideology 

 

   Liberal 

25

20

   Moderate 

37

36

   Conservative 

33

40

Support for Gay Marriage

 

   Strongly support 

56

55

   Somewhat support 

18

14

   Somewhat oppose 

7

8

   Strongly oppose 

17

23

   Do not know 

2

1

Support for Bathroom Bills in Public Schools

 

   Strongly support 

45

51

   Somewhat support 

9

9

   Somewhat oppose 

8

6

   Strongly oppose 

30

27

   Do not know 

7

7

Favor Defunding Crisis Pregnancy Centers

 

   Strongly favor 

33

38

   Somewhat favor 

23

17

   Somewhat oppose 

15

8

   Strongly oppose 

26

33

   Do not know 

4

3

Support for Abortion

 

   Legal under any circumstances 

33

28

   Legal under certain circumstances 

56

58

   Illegal in all circumstances 

9

13

   Do not know 

2

-

There has been an increased amount of advertising about the state Supreme Court and other judicial races since the October Poll was conducted. More advertising coupled with other campaign activities could boost interest and turnout above the levels we found in our survey, which ended more than two weeks prior to Election Day. It would be refreshing, in fact, if our turnout estimate was too low.

Endnotes


[1] See Voter registration update: Republicans enjoy a strong year ahead of Election 2023. Nick Field, Pennsylvania-Capital Star, October 29, 2023.

[2] The sample error for the survey is +/- 4.1 percentage points, meaning turnout between 26% and 34% captures the range of estimated turnout at the time of the survey. An alternative model of turnout based solely on respondents’ expressed interest in the election and likelihood of voting yields a higher turnout estimate but also shows the same general patterns of a Republican-leaning, conservative electorate, although the Republican advantage is a bit narrower.

Candidates and CampaignsElectoral ContextParty Identity and PartisanshipVoter BehaviorVoter Turnout

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