A new survey released Thursday by the Commonwealth Foundation (CF), a Harrisburg-based think tank, suggests Pennsylvanians broadly support free-market reforms the institute urges policymakers to embrace. 

CF publicized its Better Pennsylvania 2023 Plan, a list of 23 such recommendations, in conjunction with the poll. Executive vice president Jennifer Stefano said the foundation plans to distribute the agenda to state lawmakers and candidates for public office. She believes the ideas’ implementation will “restore hope to our citizens across the commonwealth and set us on a better path that allows all Pennsylvanians to flourish.”

According to the new survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, current economic conditions (e.g., high inflation and stalled job growth) persuade many Pennsylvania residents that change is needed. And while CF often criticizes state policies, notably those advanced by liberal Democratic Governor Tom Wolf over the last eight years, Stefano voiced curiosity at how trenchantly residents characterized the state of their commonwealth.

“We were quite surprised by public attitudes about Pennsylvania and how things are going in our state,” she told reporters.

The poll of 600 registered Pennsylvania voters revealed that 68 percent of them considered their state as being on the “wrong track” in broad economic and quality-of-life terms. And 42 percent of respondents said they recalled either thinking about leaving the state (24 percent), knowing someone who thought about exiting it (15 percent) or knowing someone who has left (12 percent) because of state policies. 

Earlier this year, polling of voters in neighboring Democrat-run states New York and New Jersey found much lower rates of public dissatisfaction with those state’s governance: Forty-seven percent of New Yorkers considered their state as moving in the wrong direction and 52 percent of New Jersey voters did. A January survey of Republican-governed Florida, meanwhile, found a 50-percent plurality of that state’s voters believed important economic indicators were heading in the right direction.

Despite widespread downheartedness about economic life in Pennsylvania, Stefano said she was nonetheless pleased to see that residents share CF’s vision for putting the commonwealth on a more promising course. 

“Pennsylvanians – Republicans, Democrats and independents – all support [the Better Pennsylvania 2023] plan,” she said. “Many in the media and many of our politicians focus on division and tribalism happening within our state and our country, but I do hope [they’ll] take note that Pennsylvanians are more united than divided on key issues that affect their lives, their livelihoods and prosperity for not just themselves but others as well.”

For instance, 82 percent of Keystone Staters endorse adopting a constitutional amendment to limit commonwealth spending to population growth plus the rate of inflation. Sixty-two percent of Pennsylvanians said they want their state to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state pact to impose de facto taxes on electricity producers. Eighty-seven percent of voters said they would back granting tax credits to residents and businesses who donate to charities that serve important human needs. 

Voters also seem to share CF’s views on public-sector labor policy: Eighty-three percent said they want all new government hires in the kind of defined-contribution plans that are common in the private sector, rather than the more expensive defined-benefit plans that current state employees have. Ninety-three percent of respondents supported requiring government agencies to inform their staffers of their right to either assent or decline to join a union.

While the survey comes from a conservative outfit and largely generated what it would consider friendly reactions, the population that responded comprised slightly more Democrats (45 percent) than Republicans (41 percent) – a balance roughly equivalent to the state’s partisan breakdown. Fourteen percent of those surveyed identified as independents or third-party. 

And not all of the results would please right-leaning observers. While pollsters did find that 48 percent of respondents generally preferred how Republican candidates would likely manage the economy versus 44 percent who favored Democrats, at least 53 percent of voters said they at least “somewhat approve” of Wolf’s performance in office. Furthermore, only 45 percent of those surveyed would be more likely to vote for the Republican candidate for governor while 47 percent would prefer the Democratic candidate. 

(That last statistic can’t strictly be read as a reflection of public views on GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro, as most of the polling took place before either were nominated on May 17.)

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].