Democrats Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman lead Republicans Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's highly watched open races for governor and U.S. Senate, according to a new Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll.
While Shapiro – the state’s attorney general – holds a “substantial” lead over state Sen. Doug Mastriano in the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Fetterman’s lead over medical doctor and television personality Oz is a narrow one, the poll found.
The poll was released Thursday and surveyed 420 likely voters across Pennsylvania between Sept. 13-16. Including voters who lean toward a candidate, the poll found that if the election were held “today,” Shapiro leads Mastriano 52% to 42%. Meanwhile, Fetterman leads Oz 49% to 44% – within the 6% margin of sampling error.
The Democratic candidates also received much more favorable ratings from poll respondents than their Republican opponents.
Get Philly local news, weather forecasts, sports and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Philadelphia newsletters.
Poll takers reported having a 49% favorable and 31% unfavorable view of Shapiro, a 31% favorable and 48% unfavorable view of Mastriano, a 44% favorable and 41% unfavorable view of Fetterman, and a 29% favorable and 53% unfavorable view of Oz.
Christopher Borick, the director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, noted the political inclination of voters in a purple state as a possible reason for the contrasting fortunes of candidates who are running for the same party in separate races.
While Oz’s high unfavourability ratings have “dogged him throughout the campaign,” he may be faring better than Mastriano, his counterpart in the gubernatorial race, because he has fashioned himself as a more moderate candidate, Borick said.
He noted Oz has attacked Fetterman as too far to the left on a number of topics, but “walks a really tight line” – at once embracing former President Donald Trump’s endorsement but also disagreeing on some issues, notably saying he would have voted to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
This strategy may be especially paying off in the Philadelphia suburbs, Borick said. At the same time, Borick said Shapiro may be faring better than Mastriano in that region because the attorney general is seen as more moderate while his opponent in the governor’s race is “completely tied to the MAGA movement” and to Trump.
For his part, Borick said Mastriano has the support of Republican base voters, but he has to court more moderate Republicans – some of whom endorsed Shapiro – as well as some independents and Democrats. “I don’t see a lot of evidence that that’s happening,” Borick said.
The Pennsylvania races are both considered pivotal this year.
Vice President Kamala Harris currently holds the tiebreaking vote in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold 48 seats and rely on two Independents who normally caucus with them. With Republican Sen. Pat Toomey retiring, the Senate race between Fetterman and Oz is considered one of Democrats’ big opportunities to flip a Republican-held seat.
Meanwhile, the veto pen of term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has kept the Republican-controlled state legislature from passing laws that forward conservative priorities like looser gun laws and stricter abortion restrictions.
Abortion itself figures to be a key issue in both races. “You can see by our poll results that a majority of Pennsylvanians have a view that is supportive of maintaining those rights in general and of course in the state. A clear majority say abortion should be legal in most or all cases,” Borick said.
The Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll found that abortion/reproductive rights was the second among voters’ top three issues. Twenty percent said abortion/reproductive rights was the most important issue in terms of deciding their vote, while 22% said the most important issue was the economy and 12% said it was inflation.
The poll found that 29% of respondents believed abortion should be legal in all cases and 32% believed it should be legal in most cases. Meanwhile, only 9% believed the practice should be illegal in all cases, while 21% said it should be illegal in most cases.
In the governor’s race, Shapiro has fashioned himself as an ardent supporter of women’s reproductive freedom who will uphold abortion protections. For his part, Mastriano has said he believes abortion should be illegal in all cases, including in instances of rape or incest or if the pregnancy risks the health of the parent.
Fetterman has vowed to vote to codify abortion rights into federal law if elected to the Senate. Oz, meanwhile, has said abortion is “murder” at any stage of a pregnancy and this week did not give a firm answer to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Julia Terruso’s question about whether he would support South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal to ban abortions nationwide beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Graham’s proposal risks putting abortion “front and center” in the midterm races, Borick said.
“I don’t think Republicans, by and large, want it to be front and center,” he said. “They want inflation to be a lead. They want this to be a referendum on Biden.”