Philadelphia is in need of a major turnaround. On that, younger and older voters agree. But the two groups have widely diverging views on how to make it happen, according to a new poll.
Commissioned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism as part of its Every Voice, Every Vote project, the poll by market research firm SSRS zeroed in on crime, education, the economy, housing and homelessness, drugs, policing and city services, and asked voters to weigh the importance of each topic for incoming elected officials during the next two years.
In general, 89% of respondents said crime was the most important issue facing the city, followed by education and the economy. Homelessness, affordable housing, opioids and city services and infrastructure rounded out the list.
Gun violence was cited as one of the most important across all ages, but there was a generational divide on how to best address the crisis.
“There are shared concerns, but differing solutions,” Jim Friedlich, executive director and chief executive officer with the Lenfest Institute, told Billy Penn. “There is universal concern over crime and public safety, but sharply differing proposed solutions.”
What’s most important as a solution to crime?
Voters under age 45 are substantially more likely to say Philly already has enough or has too many police officers (90% of respondents), while among voters age 45 and up, 61% think the city doesn’t have enough police. Perhaps relatedly, a higher percentage of younger than older respondents believe police are “not too effective.”
Meanwhile, more older Philadelphians said providing additional funding to the police would be “extremely” or “very important” in decreasing crime the next two years.
In contrast, younger voters believe increased funding for schools is a meaningful solution to crime, a view held less frequently by older voters. Education as a solution ranked highest among millennials, or 35- to 44-year-olds, 94% of whom said it plays an “extremely” or “very important” role, versus just 75% of boomers, or respondents over age 65.
One thing Philly voters of all ages largely agreed on: 79% overall say passing stricter gun laws would serve as a deterrent for violent crime. The city’s hands are mostly tied on that front; Harrisburg would need to change state code to allow it, and local leaders have even sued to make it happen.
Younger voters more likely to be housing unstable
Outside of gun violence and policing, younger voters were more concerned about affordable housing and the opioid crisis.
To help solve Philly’s fatal overdose crisis, which is one of the worst per capita in the nation, approving safe injection sites was seen as a priority among two-thirds of voters aged 18 to 34, but “not too important” among half of voters aged 45 and up.
Kristin Traniello, editorial consultant with Lenfest, pointed out a difference in how older voters responded to questions about homelessness compared with younger residents.
Younger voters “were much more likely than the 65+ group to respond that they had been housing unstable in the past three years,” Traniello noted, with a full 17% of respondents between 18 and 24 answering in the affirmative.
Despite that, gen Z voters (18- to 24-year-olds) were less likely than the 65+ voters to rank homelessness as a top priority for the next mayor to address. When it comes to affordable housing, however, 95% of the youngest voters ranked that as a top priority.
Overall, 65% of voters said they think things in Philadelphia are not headed in the right direction — something that stayed true across the generations.
“One thing on which voters young and old seem to agree is that Philadelphia is ‘pretty seriously off on the wrong track’,” Friedlich said. “There’s no statistically significant difference between young voters and older voters on this fundamental point.”
The negative assessment was highest among gen X voters, or those aged 45 to 54, of whom 74% choose the “wrong track” answer. Millennial voters, or those aged 25 to 34, were the most optimistic, with 39% saying the city is “headed in the right direction.”
Wondering how many people took the survey and how it was formed? Lenfest provided the following explanation:
To inform and help shape the quantitative questionnaire, SSRS partnered with Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research to conduct six focus groups engaging 58 voting-age residents representing 26 zip codes across Philadelphia. The formal survey was then sent to 14,424 households across Philadelphia between December 5, 2022 and January 9, 2023. 1,247 Philadelphia residents completed the survey, a response rate of 11.1% which is within an expected range for a study of this kind. Participants could complete the survey via web, phone, or mail, and data was collected in both English and Spanish.
This story is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. Learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters here.