With the flurry of gubernatorial polling published in the last few days, it’s easy to overlook Harper Polling’s recent results of the first poll tracking the less-sexy Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor. But a look into the results indicates more than a few interesting items in the down-ballot race.
One thing that is immediately clear is that the race is wide open. Former Penn State football assistant coach Jay Paterno leads the field with 17%, former Congressman Mark Critz polled at 16%, State Representative Brandon Neuman garnered 7%, State Senator Mike Stack pulled in 6%, Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski took 4% and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith sits at 2%.
With 48% of respondents undecided and three months until the election, it’s still anybody’s race.
But the results say a lot more than mere ranking.
The most remarkable takeaway from the results is that Jay Paterno’s solid gold last name showed a lot less magic than commentators expected.
In low-information races, voters use shortcuts to decide between candidates they aren’t very familiar with (political scientists call this “voter heuristics”). Some examples include gender, hometown, or ethnic affinity to a given name.
When presented with a slate of candidates and asked who they prefer, one would think that undecided Pennsylvania voters would be most likely to select “Paterno.” Yet, Paterno only garnered 17%, and 48% of voters remained undecided.
That’s bad news for the Paterno campaign, and good news for the rest of the candidates.
Also of note were Brad Koplinski’s low numbers. Koplinski has very successfully established a strong base with party insiders, as evidenced by his stellar performance at Democratic State Committee and his support from county party leaders across the state.
Yet, while Koplinski may be able to count on support from committee members and county party chairs, that doesn’t necessarily translate into popular support.
Mark Smith finds himself similarly situated. Smith has racked up an impressive string of union endorsements, not only in his home base, but across the commonwealth. (Smith also has, in my mind, the best candidate introduction video of any candidate running this cycle.)
Yet, like Koplinski, Smith finds himself at the lower end of the polling pack despite his campaign successes.
It just goes to show that in low-profile races like the lieutenant governor race, name ID matters more than campaign successes. Jay Paterno leads the pack largely because of his last name. Mark Critz is polling well (a point behind Paterno) because his three congressional races were characterized by massive media buys that repeated his name every commercial break for weeks at a time in 15 different counties.
While the race for lieutenant governor is still wide open, it is clear that voters are basing their decisions on factors largely beyond the control of the candidates.