Partisan Surveys Diverge on Howard County Executive Race

A month-old poll conducted for an independent expenditure group set up to support Democrat Calvin B. Ball’s bid for Howard County executive showed a close race shaping up between Ball and the man he is trying to oust, Allan Kittleman, the Republican incumbent.

The robo-poll of 452 likely voters, taken July 31 and Aug. 1 by a Mississippi-based Democratic firm, Chism Strategies, showed Kittleman with 38 percent, Ball with 35.2 percent, and 26.8 percent of voters undecided. That gap was within the poll’s 4.6-point margin of error.

Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball

 

Republicans took a poll on the county executive race about a week later and came up with starkly different results.

The Democratic poll, obtained by Maryland Matters, was paid for by Our Voice MD, a 501c4 group set up to support Ball, a county councilman completing his second term. The independent expenditure organization is being run by a familiar name in Maryland politics, Raymond Glendening – a national political strategist who is the son of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

In a county with 107,712 registered Democrats, 55,757 registered Republicans, and 48,096 unaffiliated voters, the pollsters suggested that Ball has more room to grow than Kittleman.

“It is important to note that 22% of strong Democrats and 35% of Lean Democrats are undecided,” they wrote. “Most of them will migrate to Ball in the November election. Also, because of Kittleman’s incumbency and name recognition advantage, he has already consolidated 95%+ of Republicans. His partisans are already lining up. Swing voters currently prefer Kittleman more than 3:1 with about a third undecided.”

The survey found both candidates with reasonably high favorability ratings, though Kittleman, who comes from a well-respected local political family, is considerably better known. Just shy of 60 percent of voters said they viewed the incumbent favorably, while 23 percent of poll respondents had an unfavorable view. Seventeen percent were neutral or did not know.

Ball was viewed favorably by 32 percent of the poll respondents and unfavorably by 15.6 percent. One-quarter of the voters were neutral when asked about Ball, while 27 percent said they did not recognize his name.

Additionally, “Howard County residents are overwhelmingly optimistic about the direction of their community,” the pollsters found: 51.6 percent of voters said it was headed in the right direction compared to 20 percent who said it was headed in the wrong direction, while 28 percent did not offer a response. Democrats were more bullish on the county than Republicans, the pollsters said.

Almost a third of voters – 31.7 percent – said cutting property taxes should be the top priority of county government. The next highest priority was controlling development, at 26.5 percent.

Some of the Democratic poll numbers contrast with recent Republican polling on Howard County. A poll of 450 likely voters taken Aug. 8-12 for the Kittleman campaign, shared verbally with Maryland Matters, showed Kittleman with 52 percent to Ball’s 37 percent.

The poll, conducted by Burton Research & Strategies, had a 4.5-point error margin. 

In the GOP survey, Kittleman had a 73 percent job approval rating compared to 16 percent of voters who viewed him unfavorably. The incumbent’s favorability rate was 64 percent, compared to 11 percent who viewed him unfavorably. Overall, Kittleman was known to 92 percent of the survey respondents.

Ball was known only to 53 percent of the county’s voters. Twenty-nine percent of voters viewed him favorably, while 7 percent had an unfavorable view.

In the poll, 71 percent of respondents said Howard County was on the right track, while 19 percent of voters said it was moving in the wrong direction.

Democrats are becoming increasingly bullish about Ball’s chances, even as they acknowledge Kittleman’s popularity. While Kittleman had considerably more money in the bank as of Aug. 21 — $689,898 to Ball’s $390,230 – Ball has outraised Kittleman in each of the last two fundraising periods, though Kittleman suspended most of his fundraising following the devastating flood in Ellicott City earlier this summer. And Democrats believe that Howard County is the kind of jurisdiction where any national blue wave could take hold.

Kittleman’s campaign began airing a new 30-second TV ad Thursday that emphasized his work to improve the county’s education system. Most of the ad featured a 30-year Howard County teacher speaking to the camera, awarding Kittleman A’s on school security, school funding and school construction.

The ad concludes with Kittleman looking at the camera, asking voters for their support.

Ball has yet to air any TV ads in the campaign.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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