A majority of Pennsylvania voters don't feel Republican Gov. Tom Corbett deserves to to be reelected, and the best-known Democrat said to be considering the race leads Corbett by a significant margin, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released early Wednesday that paints Pennsylvania's governorship as one of Democrats' best pickup opportunities in 2014.
Fully 53 percent of voters surveyed don't feel Corbett deserves reelection, up from 51 percent in late January. But the percentage who feel he does deserve reelection also rose, from only 31 percent six weeks ago, to 35 percent in the latest poll.
A question about Corbett's job approval also shows more voters making up their minds about the first-term governor, and not to his advantage. Though his approval rating ticked up from 36 percent to 39 percent in the latest poll, the percentage of voters who disapprove of the way he is handling his job as governor shot up 7 percentage points, from 42 percent in January to 49 percent now. And Corbett scores no better on personal favorability: 39 percent view him favorably, compared to 44 percent who have an unfavorable opinion.
Quinnipiac used split samples to test Corbett against eight Democrats mulling the race; this is an effort to minimize respondent fatigue, a precaution not taken by some less-rigorous polling operations. The Democrat who runs strongest, according to the poll, is former Rep. Joe Sestak, the retired Navy admiral who was his party's nominee in the 2010 Senate race. Sestak leads Corbett in the poll, 47 percent to 38 percent.
Corbett runs closer against the other Democrats, including Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who has indicated she is an all-but-certain candidate. Schwartz posts a slight lead over Corbett, 42 percent to 39 percent, well within the poll's margin of error.
Corbett's biggest lead comes against state Treasurer Rob McCord, 42 percent to 38 percent. He posts 1-point advantages over environmentalist John Hanger and businessman Tom Knox, and he ties similarly-named businessman Tom Wolf. But Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and state Sen. Mike Stack post slight, statistically-insignificant advantages over Corbett.
"The fact that these relative unknowns top or tie Corbett signals a tough road to reelection," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
And these Democrats are certainly relative unknowns at this stage. Fifty-eight percent of voters say they don't know enough about Sestak to have an opinion about him, and he is the best-known candidate tested. Fully two-thirds of voters don't know enough about Schwartz to form an opinion, suggesting that Corbett and Republicans have an opportunity to define her, a necessity for the GOP given Corbett's upside-down approval and reelect scores.
Quinnipiac did not include the prospect of a primary challenger against Corbett, though automated-telephone polls this month have shown Corbett leading Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor by 20 points or more in a GOP primary, though Corbett falls short of the 50-percent threshold in those surveys. In the Quinnipiac poll, 59 percent of Republicans say they think Corbett deserves to be reelected, while a third think he does not.
The poll was conducted March 6-11, surveying 1,116 registered voters via landline and cellular telephone. The margin of error for the full poll is plus-or-minus 2.9 percentage points, though that margin of error is significantly higher for the ballot tests, given the split samples.