Poll: Voters like Shapiro, even if they aren’t sure why

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(The Center Square) — Many voters in Pennsylvania approve of Gov. Josh Shapiro, even if they don’t know exactly why.

The Commonwealth Foundation’s quarterly Common Ground in the Commonwealth poll saw the governor earn a 61% favorable rating compared to last season, but his disapproval rating rose in tandem by 5 points to 29%. Shapiro, data showed, had the only approval rating over 50% of any statewide official.

Most respondents couldn’t name any of Shapiro’s major accomplishments, according to the poll, but still expect him to fix the budget impasse, now heading into month four. Earlier this summer, the governor placed the blame squarely on lawmakers in the House and Senate for “talking past each other” on school vouchers after he reneged on a deal with Republican leaders to fund the $100 million program.

“More than half of (voters) are unsure or don’t believe he’s had a major accomplishment,” Commonwealth Foundation Executive Vice President Jennifer Stefano said. “While they’re giving him a honeymoon period, they’re not able to articulate something that he’s done that has impacted or improved their lives.”

Shapiro’s continued approval rating could depend on how much the economy grows.

A slight majority, 51%, of respondents, said the state has “fundamentally gotten off on the wrong track.” Inflation and cost of living ranked as the top two most pressing issues.

Economic performance matters because many young Pennsylvanians have considered leaving the state.

Almost 60% of residents 18-29 years old have thought about leaving the commonwealth or knows someone who’s considered it, along with 46% of 30-44-year-olds.

“We’re sort of facing a very troubling brain drain challenge — which we have long faced, but it is not improving,” Stefano said.

A lower cost of living, lower taxes, and better job opportunities are what Pennsylvanians looking to leave have pointed to as their most common motivations.

Voters were concerned about the state’s budget, as well as their own. A plurality of voters, 44%, said Shapiro “is ultimately responsible for making sure the state budget gets finalized” — but only 17% blamed him the most for the state lacking a budget (24% blamed the Pennsylvania House and 24% blamed the Senate).

“Pennsylvanians believe that is a role the governor should play and must play,” Stefano said.

Voters also thought Shapiro should honor a deal he made to create a scholarship program for students at low-performing schools to transfer to other schools.

The governor, for his part, has given attention to the need for a change in the commonwealth’s economy. On the campaign trail, he argued he would “prioritize economic growth by cutting red tape, reducing taxes, and fostering innovation,” as The Center Square previously reported.

On Tuesday, Shapiro announced that his administration is working on a statewide economic development strategy to make Pennsylvania “a national leader in economic development and innovation.” He pointed to $1 billion in private-sector investment that has been announced since taking office and is prioritizing simplification and streamlining for businesses in the new plan.

“This plan will help the Commonwealth create real economic opportunity, where all Pennsylvanians have access to family-sustaining jobs, strong and vibrant communities, and a high quality of life,” Shapiro said.

Innovation in Pennsylvania, experts recently noted, has so far been hyper-focused around three cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College. Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution complimented the assets that already exist here, but argued that leaders need to “(try) harder” if they want to see improvements.

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