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Report: Pursuing Pennsylvania

A look into what gives in the Keystone State

Future Majority, Way to Win, Worthy Strategy Group, LLC, Autonomy Strategies : October 2021

Partnered by:



We have a fragile coalition in PA. We’re losing men of color who often sound like Republicans (e.g. freedom, success, prosperity and wealth building) and feel that the Democratic party takes them for granted.


Pennsylvania voters feel stuck when it comes to being heard and getting things done. They’re tired of old systems and old ways of doing things (e.g. red lining, unresponsive government, PennDot and the *&!*@ potholes) and want to build new roads to the future.


Voters’ patience is running thin with the admin’s lack of progress. They’re tired of paying too much and waiting too long, creating opportunities for Republicans. They want the admin to deliver, take off the kid gloves and fight.


We need to speak to and make policies around the two big dreams our voters hold — accessible, affordable healthcare for all and being financially free and able to thrive.


PA voters prioritize family and education, and have a lot of lingering anxiety about COVID and paying the bills — all areas Democrats could tap into.

Critical Watchout for Democrats

raised hands
It would be remiss of us not to mention that men of color are spending a lot of time talking about wealth building, financial prosperity and success and talk about freedom from government. They express a desire to be free of things that slow them down (which includes racism, red lining, poor educational opportunities and excess regulation), they want to be invested in and they want to be given the same opportunities as everyone.

They also talk a lot about a Democratic Party that takes them for granted and wants the party to deliver for them, but doesn’t.

Critical Opportunity for Democrats

wide open desert road
The importance of freedom to Americans has been well-established, and the current systems in place in Pennsylvania are keeping people from being free with old roads, old systems, and old ideas holding people back and holding them down.

Democrats have an opportunity to deliver freedom of opportunity by improving PA’s roads and bridges by improving its educational system from pre-K on up, and by addressing red lining, ensuring a better future for all Pennsylvanians. They also have an opportunity to deliver financial freedom, by increasing the minimum wage, by reducing or eliminating the threat of financial ruin that’s just one cancer diagnosis away with healthcare reform, and by finding a way to reduce or eliminate the burden of student loans. Finally, they have the opportunity to deliver freedom to thrive by making the justice system fair for everyone and eliminate the undue burden put on voters of color to be treated equally.

Our methodology

Get more information about our distinctive research techniques.

What Pennsylvanians Want:
Critical Issues and Ideal Leaders

All imagery that follows, unless otherwise indicated, was provided by the research subjects.

PA map and traffic on the highway
construction workers on highway
parking permits, biker in bike lane
parking lot and red train on tracks
Keeping PA Moving
By and far, the biggest gripe Pennsylvanians have with their government is poor infrastructure management. Citing roads in terrible shape, tolls for that should be making roads better but aren’t, high parking permits, the nation’s second highest gas tax, and the inability to accommodate increased traffic, all in the midst of climate-induced flooding and hail storms, our voters couldn’t stop talking about how it should be so much better, but isn’t. And how we should be prepared for the future, but aren’t. Keeping PA moving wasn’t just about smooth roads, but also the ability to access smooth, fast broadband that could help them access better opportunities. The desire for meaningful infrastructure that helps keep Pennsylvanians moving is real.
Dynamic, Responsive Government
With Philadelphia known as the cradle of US democracy, one would think that the Pennsylvania government would feel and be representative, however, according to our voters, it is anything but.

Voters expressed deep frustrations at the calcified state of things in PA, highlighting the “backwards thinking,” and “broken political system” where rural areas were overrepresented, where corruption, waste and fraud ruled and where politicians were not held accountable.

This also showed up in conversations about taxes (you should get something for them) and the legacy of red lining, highlighting the inheritance of bad systems that clogged democracy, inhibited opportunity, and held the state (and its people) back.

new york city and farmland houses
founding fathers and donald trump holding stacks of money
people standing in line to vote behind an elephant, elected officials
floor on congress, America 2020 sign
person getting a vaccine, cracked soil and green grass
seagull on beach, medical professionals working on a patient
person helping someone climb a rock, green earth, coronavirus vaccine
ibuprofen bottle, garden, polar bear on melting ice
A Healthier Pennsylvania
Like everywhere else in America, the pandemic was a source of deep irritation and frustration for our voters who spoke passionately about taking definitive action to end the pandemic, even it meant getting a little aggressive with vaccinations and mandatory mask wearing. (NOTE: this did not include shutting down the economy which was a HUGE worry for our voters).

Our voters also wanted to open up access to high quality, free/affordable healthcare and RX to everyone and to tackle health issues on an environmental level to ensure a healthier environment to live in (e.g: industrial pollution that impact air quality and health, climate change issues which impact food supply and public health, and issues with clean, lead-free water).

The PA Pocketbook
While it wasn’t all about the money, for our voters, it certainly was up there among their key concerns. Voters cited concerns with the high cost of living, including the cost of healthcare, housing and vehicle prices, and high student loans, as well as concerns with property/state/local taxes (in particular, the gas tax) being too high.

Voters also talked about higher paying jobs, wanting places where they could work, make a decent living and have more rights on the job. They wanted to see their tax dollars used right, citing the state pension bankruptcy, and the lack of social safety net in the state, and the feeling that gambling revenues should be offsetting taxes but seemed to be disappearing.

people discussing finance, stacked coins in front of a large house
empty wallet, housing market divide
distressed worker, pile of money
utility bill, suburban home
unhoused person with dog, american flag as prison bars with hands hanging out
man with two guns pointing to his head, police harassing Black men
unhoused person with shopping carts, people standing behind police line
police carrying a man, head with anxious thoughts
A More Just Justice System
Many indicated the desire for better policing, expressing frustration over increases in crime (in Philly) and in gun violence, in bad treatment of African-Americans by the police, and in the presence of “junkies on the street.”

On this issue, with some advocating for better funding of the police, whereas for others, better training to deal with people from different backgrounds. Many wanted some form of police reform.

A Better Educated PA
Lastly, voters expressed a keen desire for better education across the state, not just for kids, but for the population-at-large.

A number of voters bemoaned the susceptibility of their fellow citizens to misinformation (caused by, they perceived, their lack of education), and shared that without a better educated populace and critical thinking skills, Pennsylvania would be held back and unable to tackle the tough problems it faced.

Voters were looking for a way to secure a better future for themselves and their kids through education, and wanted the ability to obtain that and make it easier to access (through vouchers and free lunch for kids).

smiling kids playing in grass, smiling kids in classroom
equal opportunity for all, smiling family, kids in a classroom
students in a classroom with teacher, kids holding signs
covid is a lie sign, kids gossiping

Feelings on the current cost of living

Reflecting on your own financial situation, which statement best reflects you and your current situation?
I’m keeping pace, ahead, or falling behind the current cost of living.
NOTE: This finding conflicts with our polling, which suggests that 68% of PA voters indicate they are falling behind the cost of living. July 2021, n=1270

What do people think of Pennsylvania in the time of COVID?

While all our participants felt the impact of the pandemic, many lauded Gov. Wolf and the state’s imperfect, but largely effective approach to keep them safe.

Wolf Kept Us Safe
“In the early days of COVID our state worked hard to provide necessary aid for everyone, including Food Banks, Clothing, and updates to vaccine availability. It was very encouraging to see state and local governments come together.” Carol, Small College Town

“He tried to keep everything together during COVID. How he tried to make communities aware of what was going on, and was consistent even with the backlash he received. People were more worried about their money than they were about people’s lives.” Angela, Allegheny/Philadelphia

But it Wasn’t All Roses
“I wish they gave out more stimulus checks. Especially for front line workers. Since I was furloughed, I was able to receive the assistance, but it sucked seeing people that were still working struggling.” Monika, Small College Town

“When Governor Wolf shut down Pennsylvania due to COVID-19, it did mean loss of income for me however at least my health and well-being was being taken into consideration.” Vicki, Small College Town

“Vaccination sites were easily accessible and easy to get in. I just wish more could have been done to push the non-believers. There are still too many non vaccinated.” Stephanie, Small College Town

Heading into 2022

“As I head into the 2022 election, I keep thinking that Democrats need to deliver.”

pile of money
On Pocketbook Issues

“I would like to see someone who will help cut the rising inflation and costs. Gas prices are ridiculous and I don’t see anyone even talking about this issue.” Debbie, Small College Town

medical professional with syringe
On Healthcare Reform

“Healthcare is really, really, really big for me. Too many people are going into debt and dying not being able to pay their health care bills. That doesn’t bode well for society.” Kristina, Allegheny/ Philadelphia

polar bear on melting ice
On the Environment

“What’s very important to me in the next election is… cleaning up the environment. Please, it’s well needed. We do live here.” Maria, Allegheny/ Philadelphia

people at march for reproductive rights
On Reproductive Rights
“I want a candidate who will be pro-women’s health and fight for policies like Roe V. Wade.” Carol, Small College Town

Pennsylvania’s Ideal Senator

If you had to write a job description for Pennsylvania’s ideal senator, what would you write? What would be the impact of having a senator like this?

Needs to be compassionate, caring well educated willing to fight for the rights of his constituents. Easily accessible to all keep promises and not make promises that are impossible to keep. Surround yourself with productive people. One of the most important things is to serve as a liaison between constituents and the federal government. Inform the public, provide transparent information, answer questions, find resources, and help resolve issues by introducing legislation.
People elect their senators to fight for legislation that is in the best interest of the average citizen. Be active and vocal and know how to reach across the aisle to get things done. I feel the biggest piece would be knowing how to reach across the aisle and disarm some of the argumentative energy going on today. We need a no nonsense approach that makes things make sense for everyone. The Senator will be responsible for going out all parts of the state and listening to the citizens’ concerns. They will not just be a messenger to congress – they will also be responsible for listening to citizens and educating and opening the minds of those citizens who do not speak from a factual place. A Senator like this would help build relationships between the citizens and the top heads of the state who are normally far removed from the people. We need a progressive minded person. A person educated that knows laws, knows the constituents, how government is run. We need a senator that is for ALL the people not a few. We need grassroots money to get him or her in. No pac money allowed.
No bashing of others while running but let us know what YOU are going to do. Looking for a US Senator for PA. This person must have a bachelor’s degree or higher. They must also like PA and advocate for the Pennsylvanians who got them elected.
They must have experience facing adversity, and be able to respond to challenges in a positive way. They should not let politics change them, but stick to what they believe in and fight for. Age does not matter, neither does practical experience in the political world, although that would be somewhat desirable as it would likely help them to prepare for the political arena). Occupation also does not matter.
If I were able to find and hire a Senator like this, I think this Senator would bring pride to many Pennsylvanians in having someone of upstanding character who will fight for those who are a part of the most vulnerable. Must have a very clear and intelligent understanding of both the US and State constitutions.
Although may be a member of a political party, may not put the party’s interests, or his own, over the interests of his constituency. If called upon to support redistricting due to the 2020 census results, must remember and adhere to the fact that the law requires the voters to select their politicians, not the other way around where politicians gerrymander and in effect select their voters. Must remember that he is one of only 2 senators to represent the ENTIRE state. May only campaign and actively raise funds for reelection during the last year of the 6 year term, and only on a part-time basis…must work solely full-time for the constituency the other 5 years. If we were to actually find and hire a senator that worked to these requirements, maybe we would actually get some decent representation in DC that looks out for PA’s best interests instead of the political parties’ power hunger. We are looking for someone to be Senator that isn’t going to just play party politics. They will constantly remind their colleagues what the people have said they wanted through their votes and feedback like trustworthy unbiased sources like the F&M College Poll (I used to do the Keystone political survey working there so that’s a personal plug lol).
We need someone that is willing to listen to the people and work for them and fulfill our agendas their own. Honesty and integrity are a must. I think a US Senator that would be perfect for the job would be someone that actually listens to their citizens.Someone that actually cares about the people of their state. That wants to see changes where needed and someone that will fight for what is right. They also need to be vocal about what they care about and stand for what they feel is right. They need to be able to have a thick skin. They need to be personable and actually listening to those in their communities with their wants and needs. That way they are able to take it to the capital and fight for what their people actually want. If I were able to find someone like that I think they would be a great voice for Pennsylvania. That way we can get things done.
We are looking for a strong willed and an intelligent leader who is prepared to tackle the issues facing PA. We want someone who is willing to tackle climate change, social-justice,poverty,education, and criminal justice reform. Please be willing to stand up against those people who do not take these issues seriously. It is especially important that you encourage and protect the voting rights of your citizens and that work tirelessly to improve the conditions for all workers and families in the state of Pennsylvania. Please be well educated, pro-science, and willing to listen to the experts when making important decisions. Women and minority candidates are especially encouraged to apply for the job. We are looking for someone who can represent all people.
Senator wanted. Must be strong enough to push a button that says YAY or NAY. Must be patient with numerous colleagues pushing 100. Understanding of important issues desirable. Must above all defend the Constitution and individual rights. Must show proof of life as our almost invisible legacy senator Bob Casey foes once a year. High energy, a charismatic or approachable personality between age of 25, Public speaking ability is a must, relatable, problem solver, Innovative, sense of humor, US Citizen. Impact of hiring a senator could impact generations based on what legislation is passed and implemented. Hiring the right senator and having them possess interpersonal skills could assist in building relationship that lead to doing business. Go getter wanted for senator! No experience necessary. Please arrive ready for work. Voting hours may vary, but near constant constituent service a must. Don’t worry about fundraising, if you do you job right you won’t need much. Character deficient need not apply. Note that party affiliation was left out. Character comes first. And voters appreciate hard work most of all. Results matter as well, but one of 100 can’t do everything.
My ideal Senator is someone who is caring, well-educated, and disarming. Has the ability to open up the minds of people caught in misinformation and effectively reach across the aisle to get things done. Must be a fighter who transparently listens to, cares about, advocates for, communicates with, and actually likes Pennsylvanians. Can be an insider or an outsider, but must be effective for all the people – not the few. Someone supported by Grassroot donors, not PAC money. This person will get things done, and isn’t going to just play party politics. If we were able to find and hire a Senator like this, this person would bring pride to many Pennsylvanians in having someone of upstanding character who will fight for those who are most vulnerable.

What they are calling out for…

1. A Human Bowling Ball

Someone born and bred in PA who gets and loves the state, but can disrupt the system, shake things up, and move PA forward.

2. A Fixer-Upper

Someone who cares and attends to areas and issues of the state that need it (e.g., opiate addiction, build up of infrastructure including broadband and road conditions, fixing redlined areas).

3. A Level-Upper

Someone who treats PA as well as leaders in PA are treated. Builds equal opportunities for all Pennsylvanians and invests in their future.

4. An Agile, Responsive Leader

Someone who is transparent, does deep listening, authentically represents, and votes on behalf of constituent concerns. Someone who can restore, dynamic responsive government.

5. A Pragmatist

Appreciates the broad swatch of experiences and governs not for some, but for all.

In conclusion

With a new approach, we have a pathway to winning in Pennsylvania. But it won’t be easy. This is just the one of many steps to better understand what’s happening in our states.

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