Poll: Trump's GOP support slips in Pa. but core base sticks with him

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President Donald Trump turns to the audience behind him as he finishes speaking at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, Pa., Saturday, April, 29, 2017.

President Trump’s unconventional approach to the rhetoric of his office — the early-morning tweets, the bombast at campaign rallies three years before his next election, the clashes with other politicians — is a double-edged sword, a new Pennsylvania poll shows.

Trump’s core base of voters in the state is sticking with him, according to G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

But Republicans are putting some distance between themselves and the president — 53 percent of the party’s voters rate his job performance positively, but that is down from 67 percent in May.

Madonna said the biggest surprise in the new poll, being released Thursday, came when 398 registered voters surveyed from Sept. 13-18 were asked to grade Trump as if he were receiving a report card in school.

Madonna expected economic factors — unemployment and stock-market performance — to play in Trump’s favor.  They did not.

“He doesn’t seem to be getting the same kind of credit, because of the controversial nature of his presidency, that other presidents might get,” Madonna said. “In other words, he seems to be stepping on his own message.”

That is one edge of the sword.

Voters gave Trump his highest marks in handling terrorism, with 49 percent dealing him an A or B.

“He has been an outspoken critic of conventionality and the status quo and what to do about [terrorism], Madonna said.

Trump’s worst grades: 50 percent gave him an F on improving the country’s health-care system, 47 percent gave him an F on dealing with climate change and the environment.

Overall, 13 percent of the voters said Trump was doing an “excellent job,” holding steady from polls in May and February, while 16 percent said he was doing a “good job,” dropping from 24 percent in May and 19 percent in February.

He ranked “only a fair job” at 18 percent, up from 14 percent in May and 13 percent in February.

Trump is doing a “poor job,” according to 53 percent, up from 49 percent in May but down from 54 percent in February.

Madonna described as “flat” the job performance voters in the poll gave Gov. Wolf, who is seeking a second term next year.

He attributed that to state services and programs not being cut — so far — and employees not being laid off. That could change, Madonna said, if the unfinished state budget causes fiscal woes.

“The fact of the matter is most voters are not into it because nothing has changed in their lives. Nothing,” Madonna said. “[The state is] spending the money. All the programs are running. They haven’t figured out how to pay for it.”

Still, Wolf seems to have sunk some since the poll in February, perhaps because of the prolonged budget impasse in Harrisburg.

Forty-two percent of those polled said they had a “somewhat or strongly unfavorable” view of Wolf, up from 34 percent in February. Thirty-six percent had a “strongly or somewhat favorable” view of Wolf, down from 41 percent in February.

The numbers for Sen. Bob Casey, who is also seeking reelection in 2018, held steady from previous polls.

Forty-five percent had a “strongly or somewhat favorable” view of Casey, while 24 percent had a “somewhat or strongly unfavorable” view.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County Republican challenging Wolf, and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a Luzerne County Republican challenging Casey, barely registered in the poll.

For Wagner, 77 percent didn’t know enough about him to offer an opinion. That number was 68 percent for Barletta.

“This is typical,” Madonna said. “The average voter in Pennsylvania does not know members of the legislature or Congress that don’t represent them directly, and a fair number of them don’t recognize those who do represent them directly.”

Madonna predicted that name recognition for Wagner and Barletta — and other Republicans challenging Wolf and Casey — will rise once they start advertising their campaigns on television. Results of the poll, conducted for the Inquirer and Daily News and other media clients, are subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 6.2 percentage points.