Pennsylvanians Say State on Wrong Path, Many Consider Leaving: Poll

Pennsylvanians Say State on Wrong Path, Many Consider Leaving: Poll
An empty street is seen outside the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Jan. 17, 2021. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)
Beth Brelje

A Pennsylvania-based think tank that works with lawmakers to enact state policies has released results of a statewide poll that it says shows policymakers “a new pathway to prosperity” through the support of the foundation’s 23-point reform agenda.

The right-leaning Commonwealth Foundation released its May poll results on Thursday.
The unelected but powerful, policy pushing foundation said its poll shows most Pennsylvania voters in all parties are united in their dissatisfaction with the direction the state is going—some to the point of wanting to move away.

The poll shows 68 percent say things in Pennsylvania have “pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track” and 42 percent said they had considered moving to another state or personally knew someone who had already moved or thought about moving.

“Families are leaving for better jobs, educational opportunities, and quality of life in other states,” the Commonwealth Foundation said in a statement about the poll.

Asked if Pennsylvania is better, worse or the same for businesses than it was 10-years ago, 53 percent said worse, 33 percent said about the same and 14 percent said better.

The majority, 45 percent, graded Pennsylvania’s K-12 school system at a “C” level. Just 5 percent gave it an “A” but 8 percent graded it an “F.”

Of those polled, 41 percent were Republican, 45 percent Democrat, 14 percent independent, and 48 percent were men while 52 percent were women.

Across parties, the top category of concern voters picked was “Rising prices and inflation,” followed by “The economy and jobs,” and third, “Taxing and spending.” Very few participants picked COVID-19, education, or public safety as a top concern to consider in the November general election.

The majority of those polled agreed the following goals are important:
  • Ensuring all K-12 students have access to an excellent education.
  • Reducing government spending and regulatory red tape.
  • Reforming welfare and protecting the dignity of work.
  • Increasing the number of Pennsylvanians in the workforce.
  • Restoring public sector workers’ rights.
  • Making health care more accessible and affordable.
  • Making government more accountable and transparent.
In response to the poll, the Commonwealth Foundation is urging lawmakers to support its 23-point reform agenda, called Better Pennsylvania in 2023.

“If lawmakers or those running for office want to make life better for Pennsylvanians, they'll adopt these polices and ensure everyone has an opportunity to flourish,” Jennifer Stefano, Commonwealth Foundation executive vice president said in a statement. Many of the proposed policies are items the foundation has advocated for in the past.

Here is a look at the agenda by category, including the percentage of people polled who supported the policy.


  • Expanding tax credit scholarships, which allow businesses to donate money to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to low-income and middle-income children in Pennsylvania to attend pre-kindergarten or K-12 private school (85 percent support).
  • Creating education opportunity accounts, a government-funded account that parents can use for restricted educational expenses, including tuition, tutoring, online education programs, and therapies for students with special needs (84 percent support).
  • Establishing an independent authorizer for charter schools, such as a state board or universities, which would approve and renew charter schools; rather than the current system in which only school districts can approve charter schools (80 percent support).
  • Creating an A-F grading system that would give every one of Pennsylvania’s K through 12 schools a grade based on factors including state achievement, learning gains in assessment scores, and graduation rates (82 percent support).

Pennsylvania Economy

  • Passing a state constitutional amendment that would limit increases in government spending to the rate of inflation plus the rate of population growth. The limit could be exceeded with agreement from two-thirds of both houses of the General Assembly (82 percent support).
  • Lowering Pennsylvania’s tax rate for all businesses by eliminating $1 billion in state government-funded subsidies to select companies (80 percent support).
  • Requiring a vote by the state legislature to approve any new state regulation that would cost more than $1 million (77 percent support).
  • Withdrawing Pennsylvania from the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) because Governor Wolf entered into the agreement without legislative approval, and because it imposes additional taxes on electricity production (62 percent support).


  • Requiring healthy adults (excluding seniors, individuals with disabilities, and those with young children) who receive welfare benefits to work, seek work or job training, or volunteer in their communities to continue receiving benefits (82 percent support).
  • Ensuring that individuals are eligible for welfare by verifying income, residency, and household composition twice a year (88 percent support).
  • Granting Pennsylvania businesses and individuals tax credits for donations to approved charitable organizations that provide basic needs such as childcare, medical care, food, clothing, shelter, and job placement (87 percent support).
  • Allowing certified nurse practitioners in Pennsylvania to work without the supervision of a doctor to increase access to health care (71 percent support).
  • Tying the length of time an individual can receive unemployment benefits to economic conditions. For example, shorter benefit periods when the unemployment rate is low; and longer benefit periods during a recession. This would encourage work and help shore up Pennsylvania’s depleted unemployment trust fund (78 percent support).

Accountable And Transparent Government

  • Enrolling all newly hired government employees into a 401(k)-style retirement plan, similar to what most employees in the private sector receive, instead of a guaranteed pension for life, to create predictable and affordable retirement benefits (83 percent support).
  • Removing government control of the sale and distribution of wine and liquor by selling all state-run liquor stores, and allowing private retail stores and wholesalers to sell alcohol (78 percent support).
  • Modernizing Pennsylvania election laws to include voter identification; clear voting deadlines; and limits on private, third-party funding of elections (86 percent support).

Safer Communities

  • Reforming Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system to encourage alternatives to institutionalization, such as community-based rehabilitation programs for first-time and low-risk offenders (89 percent support).
  • Reducing outdated Pennsylvania licensing restrictions that prevent anyone with a criminal conviction who has paid their debt to society from getting a job (91 percent support).

Public Sector Unions

  • Stopping the use of taxpayer-funded public payroll systems to collect campaign contributions and other funds that government union leaders use for political purposes (87 percent support).
  • Requiring state and local governments to post labor contracts before voting on them, to give taxpayers transparency on the cost of government union contracts (90 percent support).
  • Requiring regular elections for government employees to vote on their union representation, something that has not happened for more than 30 years (88 percent support).
  • Requiring state and local governments notify all employees of their legal rights to join or not join a union (93 percent support).
  • Allowing government union members the right to end their union membership at any time (89 percent support).
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]