Since the 2016 election, political analysts and major news organizations have been looking at Erie County in order to understand the results of the election and predict the outcome of the 2020 election. This national attention has brought focus to the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics (MCAP) for some time now, with its most recent spotlight coming this past July.
This summer, poll data collected by Mercyhurst students in the spring of 2019, entitled “Erie County and the Trump Administration” was featured in the Fox News article “Promised Rust Belt renaissance poses risk for Trump reelection.”
Joseph Morris, Ph. D., Associate Political Science professor, serves as Chair of the Department of Political Science, and is the founder and director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics. Morris is very aware of Erie County’s important role in the 2016 election and the data that has come from the county since then.
“Erie County was one of the most important counties in the 2016 presidential elections,” Morris said. “We were one of three counties in Pennsylvania that are historically democratic counties that ended up voting for Donald Trump, and Donald Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania was incredibly narrow. Without Erie’s flipping, the likelihood that Donald Trump would be president is slim to none.”
Given their importance in the 2016 election, it seems likely that Erie County voters will once again decide the fate of the presidency in 2020. However, MCAP’s data indicates, as does the Fox News article, some trouble for Trump amongst Erie county voters.
“One of the interesting findings in our poll is that Trump is getting very mixed reviews in Erie,” Morris said. “People are fairly satisfied with the economy, but they are very dissatisfied with Donald Trump’s performance as president. So here you have the two most important survey indicators of the outcome of a presidential election, one is saying he’s going to be reelected, the other is saying he’s not going to be reelected. To me what that says is that if the election was held today, we’d have an incredibly close contest.”
This has brought national attention to Erie County politics.
“Since 2016 we regularly see national news organizations visiting Erie talking to voters and trying to figure out what’s going to happen in 2020,” Morris said.
Erie politics being in the forefront on the national stage brings exciting opportunities for Mercyhurst students. With the Center for Applied politics, students have a chance to survey and interact with local politics in impactful ways.
“I think it’s great for students,” Morris said, “the fact that we have so much attention on Erie county. It’s a great place to be a political science major because we are the center of attention for the 2020 election and that’s wonderful.”
The MCAP hosts public opinion polls on a variety of issues which it then shares with elected officials, government agencies, news organizations, and nonprofits, as well as offering “a nonpartisan forum for public debates and round-table discussions that address pressing public problems,” according to the MCAP web page.
Morris views the attention on outlets such as Fox News as a positive way for students to actually see the results of their hard work with MCAP.
“In a larger sense, I think this is a way that our students can actually participate in the 2020 election. What our students are doing is documenting moments in time that will be around for future generations to study,” said Morris. “People 20-30 years from now will be looking back on the 2016, 2020 elections and will have my students work available to them to help them make sense of our history.”
As the 2020 election draws nearer, Erie will likely continue to command the focus and attention of not only the MCAP students, but the national stage as well.