With Joe Sestak's victory in the Democratic primary and the poll bump that came with it now three months in the rear view mirror, Pat Toomey has taken a 45-36 lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race. That's a big change from the tie PPP saw in a June survey of the race but pretty similar to the solid Toomey lead our April survey showed.
Toomey's winning for the same reasons most Republican candidates across the country are doing well in key races right now:
-He has a 50-23 lead with independent voters.
-He's benefiting from a much more unified party, as he leads 74-9 with Republicans while Sestak is currently up only 64-15 with Democrats.
-This is our first poll of the race explicitly surveying likely voters and given the considerably greater enthusiasm on the Republican side we're seeing an electorate in the state that voted for John McCain by a point in 2008, in contrast to Barack Obama's actual 10 point victory in the state.
The biggest key to the race is probably Obama's considerably fallen popularity. His approval rating stands at only 40% with 55% of voters disapproving of him, one of the biggest declines from 2008 performance we've seen for him anywhere in the country. Part of Obama's low numbers is a reflection of the Republican trending voter pool in the state this year, but there are also more people who voted for Obama but disapprove of him now in Pennsylvania than there are most places. Our national poll last week found only 7% of Obama voters are now unhappy with the job he's doing but in Pennsylvania the figure is 15%. Toomey has a 14 point lead with those disaffected Obama voters, showing the extent to which those voters moving away from Obama are moving away from the Democratic Party in general.
There is indeed almost a total correlation between how voters feel about Obama and how they're planning to cast their ballots this fall. With those who approve of Obama, Sestak leads 75-6. But with those who disapprove Toomey's ahead 74-8 and with that being the much larger group it gives him the overall lead.
This may represent somewhat of a low point for Sestak. The undecided voters lean Democratic (they voted 52-36 for Obama) and it's hard to imagine the level of Democratic interest in the election going anywhere but up. But for now Toomey's in a pretty good position.
Full results here