Pay raise furor reflected in Pa. poll Confidence in state officials at low point
Friday, October 14, 2005
By Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- The continuing furor over state legislators' pay raises seems to be taking a toll on their image.
A new IssuesPA/Pew poll released yesterday "shows that confidence in state government is at its lowest point'' since the poll was begun in September 2003, said the Pennsylvania Economy League, which sponsored the poll.
Nearly 80 percent of the 1,653 Pennsylvanians who were surveyed in September rated state government's handling of important issues as fair or poor.
Forty-nine percent said it was fair and 28 percent rated it as poor, with only 20 percent giving state officials good or excellent grades. The rest had no opinion.
These latest results contrast with 28 percent of respondents who gave state officials good or excellent ratings two years ago, while 47 percent rated them as fair and 20 percent as poor.
Also dropping significantly was the percentage of Pennsylvanians who said they have "some'' or "a lot'' of confidence in the state Legislature itself.
As recently as May, that percentage was 63 percent. Now it has declined to 52 percent.
"In our five polls before this, the rating hadn't moved more than a few points but now it's down by 11,'' said poll director Larry Hugick. "We have to assume the pay raise had a lot to do with it.''
Russ Diamond, leader of Pa. Clean Sweep, a group trying to defeat all incumbent legislators, was encouraged by the results. He said such a sharp drop in approval since May "is surely due to the pay raise issue.''
The legislators' middle-of-the-night pay raise of 16 to 34 percent occurred on July 7, halfway between the May and September polls. Many people around the state have expressed anger over the raise in letters to newspapers, on radio talk shows and e-mails.
The new poll also showed, not surprisingly, that people generally feel more positive about their own legislator than they do about state government or the Legislature as a whole.
But even the public's confidence in their own representative has declined. Now, 65 percent of the people like their own guy/gal, which is down from 70 percent in May. About a third of them didn't have confidence in their own legislator, which is up from 23 percent in May.
Mr. Diamond was dismayed by the fact that 65 percent of respondents still liked their own legislator. "Pennsylvanians must realize that 'their guy' has not been part of the solution, so he must be part of the problem,'' Mr. Diamond said. "If they want change and reform, it begins at home."
If Pennsylvanians are unwilling to remove incumbents from office, he added, "We're going to remain stuck with exactly what we have now.''
The IssuesPA/Pew poll also showed a growing dissatisfaction among the public over several economic problems facing the state today, including jobs, taxes and gasoline prices.
Jobs were listed as the state's most serious problem by 21 percent of the people; high taxes by 19 percent; gas prices by 11 percent; and state government itself was listed by 11 percent as the biggest problem.
Also, for the first time, the legislative pay raise was actually listed by 3 percent of the people as the state's most serious problem.
"The convergence of economic and political discontent generally spells trouble for incumbent politicians up for re-election,'' said Mr. Hugick of the Princeton Survey firm, who used to work for the Gallup Poll organization.
"These are the kind of issues that fueled Ross Perot's anti- establishment campaigns for President in 1992 and 1996. The question remains as to how long the discontent will last.''
This most recent IssuesPA/Pew poll was conducted among 1,653 adults 18 and older from Sept. 8-18. It was done for the Pennsylvania Economy League by Princeton Survey Research Associates, with funding provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The overall margin for error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Full poll results are available at http://www.issuespa.net.
-------------------------- (Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post- gazette.com or 717-787-4254.)
Vice Chairman of Voter Education