Union members could cost Obama Pennsylvania in 2012

John Rossomando Contributor
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New polling shows reliably blue Pennsylvania, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1988, could be up for grabs in 2012. And in a wisdom-bending development, organized labor could help the state trend red.

A new poll from the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. shows 52 percent of Pennsylvanians want someone other than Barack Obama elected president in 2012. Just 41 percent say he deserves another term.

But most telling in the Franklin & Marshall poll is remarkably high dissatisfaction with Obama in households where rank-and-file union members live.

Although 61 percent of all Democrats polled said they want to see Obama re-elected, 59 percent of union households told the pollsters they wanted to see someone else in the White House.

“Depending who the Republican nominee is, this state should be very competitive,” said Dr. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Opinion Research, who runs the poll several times a year. “It’s 80 percent about Obama.”

The poll of 525 Pennsylvanians included 216 declared Democrats and 140 declared Republicans, mirroring the massive voter registration advantage Democrats enjoy in the Keystone State. As of mid-May, that gap was more than 1.1 million voters wide.

Madonna told The Daily Caller that the key to putting Pennsylvania in the “R” column will be for voters there to see the eventual nominee as a viable alternative to Obama. (RELATED: AFL-CIO’s Trumka won’t condemn Hoffa’s remarks)

These union numbers mirror overall polling data from overwhelmingly blue-collar, Democratic areas of the state such as the Pittsburgh area, where 58 percent of all voters say it’s time for a change. Only 31 percent from that region said Obama should be re-elected.

Allegheny County, where contains Pittsburgh, sided with Obama over John McCain by a 57–42 margin. But now that same majority — 57 percent — want Obama out of the White House.

“A lot of this has to do with the low levels of satisfaction with the job [Obama] has done … in job creation,” said Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County GOP party chairman. “It’s a time of uncertainty where a lot of people don’t know what our policies are and whether there’s going to be more bailouts, and what the tax rates are going to be.”

“If the economy doesn’t turn around by next September, the Democrats will be in real trouble,” Roddey added. “I tend to believe whoever wins the White House has to win Pennsylvania.”

Roddey did hedge his bets, though, saying that much will depend on who the GOP nominates to challenge Obama.

Democrats also enjoy a 400,000-voter advantage In Pennsylvania’s historically pro-union Democratic strongholds and control most local offices in those parts of the state, but Madonna sees a gradual trend toward the GOP — especially on cultural issues.

“Many of these people are culturally conservative,” Madonna told TheDC. “These are many of the same people who Obama said ‘cling to their guns and religion.’”

Indeed 2008 southwestern Pennsylvania voters, with the exception of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, split their 2008 tickets by narrowly siding with John McCain while sending Democratic representatives to Washington and Harrisburg.

The Franklin & Marshall poll found similar numbers in northeastern Pennsylvania, where voter registration favors Democrats by a 94,000-voter margin and Barack Obama collected an average of 57 percent of the vote. These same Pennsylvanians, by a 58–40 margin, now say it’s time for a new president.

Madonna told TheDC he knows why. “Obama may be mired in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” he explained, “but Obama owns it politically.”

A Pennsylvania AFL-CIO spokesman who discussed the Franklin & Marshall poll with The Daily Caller on condition of anonymity said it would be premature to comment on the poll’s implications for Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes next year, noting that the union coalition has yet to begin its voter-education effort.

Pollster John Zogby told TheDC that Madonna’s numbers mirror his own, both in Pennsylvania and in other states with high blue-collar populations that Obama won in 2008.

“My own polling shows Obama down in Pennsylvania by double digits against a leading Republican candidate,” Zogby said, adding that he found “over 50 percent in Pennsylvania who say he does not deserve re-election.”

“Of course this is not good for him. He won Pennsylvania,” Zogby said.

Zogby noted the importance of a handful of states that Obama won in 2008, but which subsequently elected Republicans in 2010. Just five of those states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Minnesota — represented 74 of the 365 electoral votes Obama claimed in 2008.

“Those are big union states,” Zogby said. “The president has got to win those states, and he’s not going to simply do that with his base coalition. He has to get his numbers up.

“A Democrat can’t win with 35 percent support among union members.”