Oct 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Focus groups: Pennsylvania swing voters aren't sold on a switch

Illustration of a person walking away from an elephant.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Trump-to-Biden swing voters in Pennsylvania in our latest Axios Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups favored Democrats or split-ticket midterm ballots, saying if Republicans retake power they'll push a nationwide abortion ban and focus on "revenge" investigations against President Biden and his party.

Driving the news: These were the major takeaways from our two online focus groups conducted Oct. 11 — our last swing-voter panels before the Nov. 8 election.

Why it matters: These voters' disappointment with Biden and the economy, and rising anxiety about crime, aren't persuading them to embrace the Republicans at the top of their state's ticket.

How it works: All 13 participants voted for former President Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. The panels included six registered Republicans, six Democrats and one independent.

  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about current events.

The big picture: Nine of the 13 participants favored the Democratic nominee for the open Senate seat, John Fetterman, while two favored Republican Mehmet Oz. Two said they'd back neither.

  • In the governor's race, eight of 13 preferred Democrat Josh Shapiro, while just one backed Republican Doug Mastriano.
  • Four said they knew they wouldn't back Mastriano — a Trump-endorsed candidate who has come under fire for antisemitic signaling — but were undecided about what they would do.

What they're saying: "I have seen what happens when celebrities become in a position of power, and I did not enjoy that," Stephanie S., a Democrat said, citing Trump's example.

  • Some questioned Oz's allegiance to Pennsylvania given his ties to New Jersey or cast doubt on his credibility as a doctor. "Growing up, I saw him all on TV pushing, you know, 'Take this one little pill and you'll lose weight,'" said Joshua J., a Democrat. "I don't really believe anything he says."
  • Brandon I., a Republican, said he leaned toward Fetterman but is worried about his health after the Democrat suffered a stroke in May. "Especially in the next month, if something else happens," Brandon said.
  • Bob G., a Republican who said he's not "a MAGA Republican," wants to see his party separate from Trump and gets nervous about who is driving the GOP's agenda. Still, he's backing Oz. "I'd like to see the Republicans take [Senate control] back just based on the economy."
  • He said he finds Mastriano's extremism so troubling that if it were a close race, he would vote for Shapiro to keep Mastriano out.

The bottom line: “While specific issues matter to these Pennsylvania swing voters, a larger consideration seems to be candidate character. In the case of the Senate race, it’s also which party will be in control in 2023,” said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups.  

Go deeper