Suffolk University Poll of Primaries in Pennsylvania

Congressman Joe Sestak (49 percent) leads incumbent Arlen Specter (40 percent) by 9 points in the race for U.S. Senate among likely Democratic Primary voters in Pennsylvania, according to a poll released today by the Suffolk University Political Research Center. Twelve percent of voters were undecided.

The winner of the Democratic Primary will most likely face Republican Pat Toomey, who led Peg Luksik 60 percent to 9 percent in the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate.

“The key to the Democratic Primary will not only be the get-out-the-vote efforts by both campaigns but also those of other Democratic races across Pennsylvania,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “This Democratic Primary is tricky because there will be higher than usual Democratic primary votes cast in three Congressional districts and in areas like Berks and Lackawanna counties, where a dozen or so state Senate and state rep. candidates will be dragging out their own voters.”


Sestak led Specter among men and women as well as all age groups. In addition, Sestak led 58 percent to 31 percent in central Pennsylvania and 55 percent to 37 percent in the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area. Specter carried the southwest Pennsylvania area 45 percent to 38 percent. The highest undecided block of voters is in western Pennsylvania, where 17 percent are still undecided for U.S. Senate.

A heavy minority vote could make a difference for Specter. Sestak won white voters 51 percent to 37 percent but trailed among minority voters, where Specter led 52 percent to 37 percent. Sestak carried union households by a wide margin, 60 percent to 36 percent.

The Democratic Senate bellwether of York County showed a tighter race than the statewide survey, with Sestak leading 42 percent to 39 percent.

Divided Loyalties

Only 50 percent of Specter voters said they would support Sestak in the November General Election; while 6 percent said they would support the Republican; 5 percent will vote for one of the independents; 4 percent said they will not vote; and 34 percent were undecided.

Sestak voters were even less loyal. Forty-five percent of Sestak voters planned to vote for Specter if he were the nominee; while 14 percent would vote for the Republican; 9 percent would choose one of the independents; 5 percent will not vote; and 28 percent were undecided.

This contrasts sharply with the Suffolk University Ohio Primary poll, which showed that at least 70 percent of supporters for either Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate would support the Democratic nominee in November against the Republican.

“This finding is even more powerful given that, unlike Ohio, the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary is closed and only allows registered Democrats to cast Democratic ballots,” said Paleologos.

Onorato vs. Corbett Likely November Matchup

In the Democratic Primary for governor, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato (46 percent) comfortably led his three opponents: state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (13 percent), state Auditor Jack Wagner (9 percent), and former Congressman Joseph Hoeffel (8 percent). This trend also was seen in the Democratic bellwether of York County, where Onorato led Williams 37 percent to 8 percent.

In the Republican Primary for Governor, Attorney General Tom Corbett (58 percent) led state Rep. Samuel Rohrer (20 percent) by 38 points, with 22 percent undecided. This trend also was seen in the Republican bellwether of Lackawanna County, where Corbett led by 34 points.

Medical Marijuana

Democrats and Republicans were split regarding the issue of legalizing medical marijuana; a bill is now before the Pennsylvania Legislature. Seventy-six percent of Democrats strongly/somewhat supported the measure, while 23 percent were not very/not at all supportive. Among Republican Primary voters, 45 percent were very/somewhat supportive, while 54 percent were not very/not at all supportive.


Suffolk University conducted two separate Primary polls through live telephone interviews. Each was fielded Monday, May 11, through Wednesday, May 13, 2010. The margin of error on each statewide survey of 400 is +/- 4.90 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. All respondents from the statewide survey were likely Democratic or Republican voters in the respective Pennsylvania Primaries to be held Tuesday, May 18. Frequencies/marginals and 245 pages of cross-tabulation data will be posted today on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site. The Democratic bellwether of York County, and the Republican bellwether of Lackawanna County were conducted May 12 and May 13; each included a total of 250 likely respondents. Bellwether test are designed to predict outcomes - not margins.

For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310.