By Josh Kurtz
The first public poll in Maryland taken since the decisive Virginia elections last month shows that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) remains about as personally popular as ever – but that the issue environment, heading into the 2018 General Assembly session and state elections, may favor Democrats and their priorities.
In fact, the poll provides something of a legislative roadmap for Democrats in the months ahead: Many of the issues that propelled Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) and legislative Democrats to robust victories in Virginia are popular in Maryland.
The poll, conducted in mid-November for Our Maryland, a progressive education and advocacy group, also found that Hogan’s “re-elect” number – the percentage of voters who said they would definitely vote to re-elect him – is below 50 percent, an important benchmark for incumbents seeking re-election. And the survey suggested that Hogan’s attempts to scapegoat Democrats in the General Assembly for legislative impasses may not gain much political traction.
The poll of 600 likely general election voters, obtained by Maryland Matters, was taken Nov. 14-18 by Margie Omero of GBA Strategies, a Democratic firm. It had a 4-point margin of error.
Our Maryland has several establishment Democratic connections. Patrick Murray, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party, is one of the group’s chief organizers and strategists. At least four unions that generally align with Democrats have sponsored a conference the organization is holding in College Park on Monday.
The survey did not have horse-race matchups between Hogan and any of the eight Democrats seeking to oppose him in November, nor did it test the Democrats in a primary matchup. But there was plenty of fodder on the political and policy fronts.
The poll did have some good news for Hogan: 61 percent of those surveyed said the state is heading in the right direction, while only 27 percent said it is on the wrong track. Fifty-seven percent of the survey respondents had a favorable view of Hogan; only 20 percent viewed him unfavorably. When voters were asked to rate their feelings about the governor on a scale of zero to 100, the average response was 64.
The survey also asked respondents about their views of President Trump and the Maryland General Assembly. Trump was viewed favorably by 24 percent of Marylanders, compared to 64 percent who viewed him unfavorably. Asked to rate their feelings on Trump, Marylanders voters gave him a 30 score on average.
The legislature’s score was hardly sterling: 34 percent of voters said they viewed the Assembly favorably, while 26 percent said they viewed it unfavorably, with 30 percent undecided or not sufficiently familiar to answer. The average rating was 49.
But that’s significantly better than the legislature’s federal counterpart. Congress has struggled to get into double-digits in voter approval in most recent polls.
This could be significant in Maryland: Hogan has amped up his criticism of the legislature in the past several days, as the governor and lawmakers fight over dueling proposals over earned sick leave. Hogan last week said Democrats “chose to play politics to make an election year issue” rather than working with him to find a compromise on sick leave. But Democrats seem in no mood to compromise and are likely to override Hogan’s veto of the sick leave legislation they passed in the last session.
Asked by the Democratic pollster whether they would vote for Hogan or a generic Democrat in next year’s gubernatorial election, 45 percent said Hogan and 35 percent said the Democrat. Hogan has now been below 50 percent on the re-elect question in a few public polls over the last several months. By way of comparison, a Rasmussen Reports poll had then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) at a 47 percent re-elect rate in January 2006, even though he was personally popular. Ten months later, he lost by almost 6 points to Democrat Martin O’Malley.
Education is far and away the most important issue to voters – another policy debate where there has been friction between Hogan and the legislature, especially over funding. Asked which one issue voters wanted the next governor and legislature to focus on the most, 28 percent answered education and schools – twice as many that answered economy and jobs (14 percent), health care (14 percent), and crime (13 percent). The other issues: Taxes (10 percent), illegal immigration (6 percent), the Chesapeake Bay (5 percent), government spending (4 percent), and traffic (3 percent).
The pollster then read survey respondents a list of ideas that have been proposed in the legislature during recent sessions and asked them whether they favored or opposed the ideas:
- “Fill the multi-billion dollar funding gap that public schools in Maryland are currently facing” – 72 percent favored, 21 percent opposed
- “Protect the Chesapeake Bay from the Trump administration’s spending cuts and continue to restore the Bay and prevent pollution” – 79 percent favored, 16 percent opposed
- “Invest in renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and in new high-paying green jobs” – 82 percent favored, 14 percent opposed
- “Restore health insurance for kids, seniors and anyone else facing health cuts under President Trump” – 74 percent favored, 21 percent opposed
- “Prevent prescription drug companies from price gouging on medications people need to survive” – 83 percent favored, 23 percent opposed
- “Create universal health care for all Maryland residents” – 70 percent favored, 27 percent opposed
The last policy question was about education spending in Maryland. Ten percent said the state is spending too much, 50 percent said it is spending too little, and 31 percent said it is spending the right amount. The rest of the survey respondents did not answer or did not know.
What all this suggests is that Democrats can score policy points over Hogan with the voters in the months ahead. But it does not illuminate some of the challenges they face.
Hogan will be putting out his own spin on the legislative battles of the past three years and touting his accomplishments. He’ll have an overwhelming fundraising advantage over Democrats and continues to display a mastery with social media that Democrats can only dream of. And voters genuinely like him – a stark contrast to their feelings about Trump.
On the other hand, Maryland remains a Democratic state, and the president’s standing could be an anvil around many Republicans’ necks – even a popular Republican like Hogan. The identity and quality of the Democratic nominee for governor will matter, too.
Get ready for an intense 11 months.