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Poll: State government dismays Pennsylvania residents

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, 4:03 a.m.

Nearly half of Pennsylvania's voters identify the government and politicians as the state's biggest problems, trumping concerns about education, taxes and personal finances by a wide margin, a poll released Thursday shows.

“How many different ways can you can you spell dissatisfaction?” said pollster G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Politics and Public Affairs, which released the poll.

The F&M poll shows 47 percent of Pennsylvania voters think the government and politicians are the state's most important problem, up from 38 percent a month ago and 17 percent in June — before the state budget impasse began. Gov. Tom Wolf and legislators are eight months overdue in passing a budget for the fiscal year.

Voters' disgust with government outpaces concerns about education (12 percent), taxes (10 percent), unemployment and personal finances (9 percent) and the economy (4 percent), the poll shows.

“State government is a mess,” said James Pellegrino, 76, of North Versailles, a retired millworker and registered Democrat.

Madonna said the budget impasse “personifies the government dysfunction in Harrisburg.”

But it's far from the only problem.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane's law license is suspended as she faces perjury charges, and she announced this month that she won't seek re-election. Fifty-eight percent of those polled by F&M think Kane should resign, up from 51 percent in October. Fifty-eight percent think she should be impeached if she doesn't leave her post, up from 57 percent.

Former Treasurer Rob McCord is awaiting sentencing on extortion charges. One Supreme Court justice went to prison, and email scandals enveloped two others.

Two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters think the state is on the wrong track.

“There doesn't seem to be any immediate solution” to the anti-government sentiment, Madonna said.

Other key findings:

• Thirty-nine percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Wolf, up slightly from October, but just 31 percent think he's doing an excellent or good job, the lowest share since he took office in January 2015.

• Fifty percent have a favorable opinion of President Obama, his highest share since October 2013.

• Twenty-nine percent have a favorable opinion of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, his lowest share since October 2013. In recent weeks, Toomey has become involved in a political fight over replacing late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing that Obama should leave the nomination to the next president. A Pew Research poll released this week shows 56 percent of Americans think the Senate should hold hearings and vote on Obama's nominee.

• Former congressman Joe Sestak is leading a three-way race for the Democratic nomination to face Toomey in the November election, with support from 21 percent of Democrats, compared with 12 percent for former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty and 8 percent for Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. Sixty percent are undecided or support someone else.

“It's all name recognition. (Sestak) has basically been campaigning for the past six years, but I think this race is still a toss-up,” Madonna said, noting an aggressive advertising campaign could catapult McGinty or Fetterman.

The statewide poll surveyed 985 voters — 486 Democrats, 371 Republicans and 128 independents. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or

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