Apr 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: Pennsylvania swing voters favor more drilling

Illustration of an oil barrel with an "I voted" sticker.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Pennsylvania swing voters in our Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus group strongly favored ramping up domestic oil drilling in response to rising gas prices.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 economy and war in Ukraine have driven up fill-ups. Republicans trying to retake Congress say President Biden's approach to energy and environmental regulation also are to blame — and say if they win back power, they'll push to increase domestic oil production.

👀 Axios will cover a focus group in a different battleground state each month until the November midterms.

Driving the news: Pro-drilling sentiment was a key takeaway from two online, statewide focus-group panels Axios sat in on Tuesday night.

  • They included 13 men and women who live in Pennsylvania and voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but flipped to Joe Biden in 2020.
  • Ten of the 13 live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
  • A focus group isn't a statistically significant sample like a poll. But the responses help show what voters in crucial states are focused on.

Details: Eight of the 13 Pennsylvanians said they favor ramping up domestic oil drilling.

  • Two in three said they place more blame for gas prices with Russian President Vladimir Putin than Biden.
  • Biden has been branding higher costs as "Putin's price hike."
  • None of the swing voters bought the notion that paying more at the pump is the cost of showing support for the people of Ukraine.

Participants didn't say drilling should be the only answer.

  • Several expressed interest in tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • The also supported removing the gas tax, requiring better gas mileage in cars, making electric vehicles more cost-effective and installing more charging stations to incentivize more EV-buying, said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the groups.
  • One suggested reconsidering the Keystone Pipeline, which Biden halted upon taking office.
  • Pennsylvania currently has over 7,000 active wells for extracting natural gas, according to StateImpact Pennsylvania.

The intrigue: The panelists also were asked to weigh in on the Republican and Democratic rivals in Pennsylvania's hotly contested U.S. Senate race.

The primaries are on May 17.

  • Six of the swing voters were registered Republicans; four were registered Democrats, and three were independents.

On the Republican side, each participant but one recognized celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, when shown his photo.

That said, the words they associated with the candidate were overwhelmingly negative.

  • Among the most frequently cited: "fraud," "celebrity" and "hack."

Only one person was able to identify Oz's chief opponent in the primary, Dave McCormick.

Of the six Republicans, five said they had no doubt their primary vote would go to McCormick.

The other said that if the vote were tomorrow, she'd also choose McCormick.

  • President Trump’s endorsement of Oz didn't help Oz with these swing voters.
  • That's not surprising, since the panels were composed of prior Trump backers who turned away from him in 2020.

In the Democratic race, participants were split between Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Malcolm Kenyatta.

  • None expressed a preference for Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.).
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