Poll reveals Pennsylvanians maintain positive view of government performance

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Since the 2016 election, most Pennsylvanians have maintained a positive perception of federal and state government, however, public opinion has shifted significantly to reveal a lower overall satisfaction with the federal government’s performance in delivering services such as transportation, parks and recreation, responding to natural disasters, and keeping people safe.

According to a new poll sponsored by the School of Public Affairs and the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute, and administered by the Center for Survey Research at Penn State Harrisburg, which analyzed the responses from 1,047 adult Pennsylvania residents, 58 percent believe that the federal government is doing a somewhat or very good job at providing public services, a number 11 percent lower than it was during the 2016 election season. The poll also asked about public perception of the Pennsylvania state government, which has declined 2 percent from the previous election.

According to researchers Patria de Lancer Julnes, professor of public administration, and Michele Tantardini, assistant professor of public administration, perceptions of government performance can provide valuable insights into how Pennsylvanians will cast their votes come mid-term elections. These perceptions are often interpreted as a reflection of public trust in government and have been found to make a difference in electoral outcomes, with voters often “punishing” those they feel are poor performers. Gauging citizen satisfaction is not only an accountability tool, but also a feedback mechanism that could potentially help to improve programs and policies locally and federally, they said.

The data from the poll delivers a portrait of the views of Pennsylvanians in advance of the upcoming mid-term and Pennsylvania gubernatorial elections. Though the mood is positive overall, the analysis shows that certain population subgroups are less satisfied with the federal government than others. For instance, minorities had a more negative perception than whites by about 22 percentage points. Education also played a role, as residents with a graduate education had a more negative perception than those less educated by about 15 percentage points.

Some of the other observations also provide valuable information about the diversity of opinion among Pennsylvania residents, which differs by age, sex, region, and political affiliation.

  • The most significant difference in perception between subgroups was found among those with differing political affiliation. Nearly half of the sample that identified as Liberal or Democrat expressed dissatisfaction with the federal government (45 percent). The next highest dissatisfaction was found among those affiliated with Independent or other parties (about 35 percent had negative views). Only 15 percent of Republicans are unhappy with the federal government.
  • Those living in Northern counties of Pennsylvania (e.g. Erie, Potter and Susquehanna) had a more negative perception of the federal government’s services than those in Central Pennsylvania and other regions of the state by about 20 percent.
  • At the state level, those self-identifying as conservatives and non-Democratic party affiliates, including independent voters, had more negative perceptions of the delivery of public services by the Commonwealth.
  • Younger residents between the ages of 18 and 34 also felt better about state government services than older residents aged between 35 and 64.
  • Women had a more positive perception of the performance of the state government than men, by about 6 percentage points.

Then vs. Now

  • State: When evaluating the performance of the Commonwealth in delivering services, the same groups (35 to 64-year-olds, men, and non-Democratic party affiliates) that seemed to be more dissatisfied in 2016 have not changed their perception, according to the results of the 2018 survey.
  • Federal: In 2016, Northern Pennsylvanians, non-Democratic party affiliates, and those with some college were the groups that had the least positive assessment of the federal government services. The change of political party has reversed non-Democratic and Democratic opinions of the federal government’s performance.

The researchers added that the data provided by the poll highlights some key trends from the 2016 election that have persisted until today. Groups that were less satisfied with the performance of services delivered by the Commonwealth are the same groups unhappy with the state government today. Based upon the data, the researchers recommend that Pennsylvania policy-makers and agency administrators seek to understand and address the concerns of those groups.

To read the full brief, visit: harrisburg.psu.edu/content/research-brief-padm_governperfo_julnes-tantardini_revised.pdf.