(Bloomberg) -- The economy is on the upswing in Philadelphia and its suburbs after several years of pandemic-related weakness. New housing developments are going up as the region adds jobs and population, old industrial sites are being redeveloped and inflation has moderated.

That should be good news for President Joe Biden, who needs a large vote margin in Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania to carry the state in an expected rematch with former President Donald Trump in November. But local Democratic leaders say Biden and the party need to do more to capitalize on an opportunity to persuade voters that his administration deserves credit for the rebound.

“The president’s done a tremendous job, but he hasn’t gotten any credit for it,” said Bob Harvie, a Democratic commissioner in Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia and a delegate for Biden in 2020. “I wish he was out there more communicating, or just anybody really putting out the message of, ‘this is what we’re doing.’ I know he has done that, but not to the level that obviously needs to happen.”

The gloom is reflected across the state. Only 43% of Pennsylvania voters think the economy in their city or town is going in the right direction, the lowest of the seven swing states surveyed in a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll in February. Pennsylvania voters also rated their economy lower than voters in the other six swing states. 

The poll, conducted Feb. 12-20, showed that Pennsylvania voters trust Trump more than Biden to handle the economy, 52% to 33%, and almost half of Keystone State voters say their personal financial situation was better under Trump than Biden. The results are consistent with other surveys, including a Franklin & Marshall College poll in February that found only 41% of respondents in Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania rated Biden’s job performance as excellent or good. 

Biden’s struggles in Pennsylvania could be a warning sign for Democrats, who typically dominate the vote in urban areas and many surrounding suburbs.  Pennsylvania is considered a must-win state in Biden’s bid for a second term. Democrats rely on big vote totals in Philadelphia and its neighboring counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery to offset Republican votes in central and western Pennsylvania. Biden captured 81% of the vote in Philadelphia in 2020, helping him beat Trump by 80,555 votes in Pennsylvania. Some 44% of Biden’s votes in the state came from the city and nearby counties.

Party leaders worry that voters’ concerns about the president’s age and agility — Biden turned 81 in November — are contributing to their negative views about the economy.

Janae Kindt, 25, a Philadelphia writer and photographer, said they most likely will vote for Biden — but grudgingly because of the president’s age.

“I lightly worry that based on how he is being received and discussed in progressive spaces in Philadelphia and throughout west and southwest Philadelphia especially, that he might struggle a little bit to at least mobilize Philly,” Kindt said in an interview at a coffee shop near the University of Pennsylvania.

US Representative Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Philadelphia, said he is concerned that the Democratic vote share in the city, while overwhelming, has declined in four straight national elections. Republicans have made inroads in some wards with Hispanic and Puerto Rican voters in particular, while turnout has fallen among Black voters. The party must do more to reach those voters, Boyle said.

Local leaders point to billions of dollars in federal funds being invested to improve public works and for clean energy from legislation that Biden championed. They cite projects such as the redevelopment of a former Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery site into a 1,300-acre hub for e-commerce, life sciences and logistics companies.

The Philadelphia region made the biggest gain among large cities last year in the Milken Institute’s annual ranking of best-performing cities based on job growth and 12 other economic indicators, rising to 52nd place from 182nd the prior year. The jump was driven by growth in Philadelphia employment and wages, especially in the high-tech sector, said Maggie Switek, lead author of the study. The Philadelphia region ranked second among large cities in high-tech GDP growth from 2021-2022.

While New York, Boston and other major metro areas on the US East Coast lost population in the third and fourth quarters of last year, the Philadelphia region grew, according to a Bank of America Institute analysis using internal aggregated and anonymized customer data. 

Philadelphia’s economy also has been doing better because the “eds and meds” of higher education and health care institutions that account for a third of the region’s job base — double the national average, said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics who lives in Chester County.  Home to Vanguard Group Inc. and QVC Inc., Chester County has had the largest increase in population of any Pennsylvania county since 2020 and the lowest unemployment rates in the state at 2.1% in December.

The Biden campaign said Democrats were dedicated to informing Philadelphia voters about Biden’s economic record and the contrast with Trump and noted that it made an early investment in paid media in Pennsylvania, including ads specifically targeting Black voters.

Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor, Pennsylvania governor and chair of the Democratic National Committee, said he thinks Biden will lose some votes in the region from 2020 but that there will be a bigger drop-off in support for Trump, especially in the suburbs.

But while Trump is losing voters in the suburbs, he is gaining support among blue-collar workers in Philadelphia and could cut into the vote margin Biden needs there to win statewide, said Republican consultant Josh Novotney, political director for former Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey. The economy will be less of a factor in the race, he said, than questions about Biden’s leadership.


The Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll surveyed 4,955 registered voters in seven swing states: 798 registered voters in Arizona, 800 in Georgia, 702 in Michigan, 445 in Nevada, 705 in North Carolina, 803 in Pennsylvania and 702 in Wisconsin. The surveys were conducted online from Feb. 12 to 20 and the aggregated data across the seven swing states were weighted to approximate a target sample of swing state registered voters based on gender, age, race/ethnicity, marital status, home ownership, 2020 presidential vote and state. State-level data were weighted to approximate a target sample of registered voters in the respective state based on gender, age, race/ethnicity, marital status, home ownership, and 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point across the seven states; 3 percentage points in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania; 4 percentage points in Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, and 5 percentage points in Nevada.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.