Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Pennsylvania Swing Voters Aren’t Rushing Back to Republicans

Yet . . .
April 22, 2022
Pennsylvania Swing Voters Aren’t Rushing Back to Republicans
A demonstrator holds up a sign during a Voting and Democracy celebration at the Philadelphia Convention Center on November 06, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Recently we sat down (over Zoom) with a group of Pennsylvania swing voters to talk about the midterm elections. We were surprised to hear them reject the conventional wisdom that persuadable voters such as themselves will vote for Republican senate candidates in November merely out of frustration with the Democrats’ inability to control inflation, crime, and various other problems.

The voters we spoke with—six Republicans, four Democrats, and three independents—are frustrated, but they also worry that the “cure” of returning Republicans to power might be worse than the “disease” of Democratic control.

The conventional wisdom is that 2022 is shaping up to be a wave election for Republicans. But only one of our respondents personified this view.

David, 40, from Phoenixville, explained, “Biden has done a horrible job. Crime is up everywhere. . . . It’s all the Democrat-run cities. Inflation is at a 40-year high. I don’t see any solutions coming out. I think maybe we need to have Republicans controlling the House and the Senate to provide good checks and balances for Biden.”

The other 12 didn’t view the midterms as a referendum on Democrats. Instead, they were focused on the qualities of the individual candidates, rather than punishing or embracing one party over the other.

Bridget, 60, from Trevose, remarked, “Not as a protest would I just pull straight Republican [while voting] . . . I’d have to know that I wanted that person, not because they were [of] that party.”

“For me, it depends. Are they being backed by Trump? Are they big Trump fans? Are they preaching the election was stolen? All that jazz that I just can’t stomach . . . I couldn’t fathom voting for a Republican that is pro-Trump, that might think like him, act like him. No way is that happening,” commented Brian, 40, from Washington.

Amy, 43, from Ardmore, explained, “I think both parties have made mistakes and there are issues with both of them. I can’t put the blame on one over the other . . . I don’t know that Republicans would make any better choices [if they regain control of Congress].”

Notably, 8 of the 13 were apprehensive about giving control of the House and/or Senate to Republicans, citing the acrimonious relationship between Republicans and Democrats in Washington—especially concerning social issues and voting rights.

“To me, [Republicans in Congress] seem like babies and very, very petty . . . I feel like we can never truly move forward because they block things just to block things,” remarked Stacy, 37, from Marcus Hook. “It’s never to understand the other opinion. It’s never to understand the other side. It’s merely because they don’t have control. . . . Giving them power would be just pointless in my opinion. It would go totally the other way, and they would make decisions quickly, in their favor. And in their favor, nine times out of 10, do not benefit minorities or people that don’t have a lot of money—middle class or lower.”

Cristina, 30, from Conshohocken, commented, “If Republicans were the majority of the House and Senate, I think we’d see a lot of moving backwards, personally, in my opinion, when it comes to social issues . . . Just knowing that some of the things that have been coming up in bills that have been raised in a lot of our southern states, it makes me nervous, being a woman.”

Denise, 56, from Philadelphia, added, “One of my top apprehensions [about giving control of Congress back to Republicans] is there’s a hard push for voter suppression, which we’ve seen all over the country. [Republicans] are trying to push laws that would keep people of color from voting. They’re just seeming to make it harder and harder. If they got back in office, I believe they would make those laws permanent, instead of just on a state level, but on a federal level.”

If Republicans do well in November, it will be either because they allay the concerns of swing voters or win the turnout war. If they do both—that’s when you get an electoral wave.

Rich Thau and Matt Steffee

Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group.
Matt Steffee is vice president of research services at Engagious.