A new poll shows that most Pennsylvanians feel that their state and federal governments are doing a good job in delivering public services, but some segments of the population are less positive. According to researchers in Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Public Affairs, the survey results could have implications in the upcoming elections and also highlight groups of citizens requiring more attention from policymakers and agency administrators.
The data consist of responses from 660 randomly selected adult Pennsylvania residents who were asked two versions of the same question: “Please think about the job the [federal/state] government is doing in delivering services. Examples of services include transportation, parks and recreation, responding to natural disasters, and keeping people safe. Is the [federal/state] government doing a very good, somewhat good, somewhat bad, or very bad job?” (The data was collected as part of an omnibus survey administered by telephone through the Center for Survey Research at Penn State Harrisburg between August 18 and October 15, 2016.) The poll was sponsored by the Penn State Harrisburg School of Public Affairs in partnership with the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute.
As was the case with participants in a national telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, most Pennsylvania residents in this survey had positive views about the overall performance of the federal and state government. Overall, 69.2 percent of Pennsylvanians rated somewhat good or very good the performance of the federal government in delivering public services. A slightly lower percentage, 64.7 percent, had the same perception for services provided by the Commonwealth.
“One way we can understand citizen voting behavior is by assessing their perceptions of government performance – whether citizens think government is doing a good job or not in delivering services,” said Dr. Patria de Lancer Julnes, director of the School of Public Affairs. “These perceptions are often interpreted as a reflection of trust in government and have been found to make a difference for incumbents in elections, with voters often castigating poor performance.”
Pennsylvania leaned Republican for most of the 20th century, but has voted for Democratic candidates for president since 1992. With a Democratic governor currently in office, Pennsylvania is considered a battleground state for the 2016 presidential election. The Democratic presidential vote of Pennsylvania in the last six national elections has been driven by the more urban and densely populated cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
According to Dr. Michele Tantardini, assistant professor of public administration, from a management perspective, gauging citizen satisfaction is not only an accountability tool but also a feedback mechanism that could potentially help to improve programs and policies.
In the recent survey, certain groups of respondents were not as positive as the respondents overall. Regarding federal government services, Northwestern Pennsylvanians, minorities, non-Democratic party affiliates, and those with only some college education were less positive. In evaluating state government services, 35 to 64 year olds, men, minorities, non-Democratic party affiliates, and those with graduate work were less positive than citizens overall.
“All of this information provides policymakers a glimpse of the mood of Pennsylvanians prior to the presidential elections,” Julnes said. “Although overall it is positive toward the incumbent party, some segments of the population are less satisfied with this performance. If, as suggested by prior research, positive perceptions of performance are a proxy for support for incumbents, then the Democratic Party could do well in Pennsylvania in the upcoming elections. On the other hand, prior research also suggests that those with more negative perceptions might cast their vote for opposition parties even though there may be no assurances that they would improve performance.”
For additional information, see the November 1, 2016 Public Administration Research Brief.