By Len Lazarick
The economy is the top issue for a majority of Maryland voters, according to a poll released Wednesday, and they are “somewhat optimistic” about the coming year, even though 36% say their family’s financial condition is worse today than a year ago.
The new poll of 816 likely voters conducted last week by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies also found Gov. Martin O’Malley’s job approval ratings fairly stable at slightly under 50%, but “lower than an incumbent would prefer 10 months before an election.”
In a head-to-head matchup with former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, Democrat O’Malley leads 48% to 39%, a 9 point spread, compared to 49% to 38% lead in a September Gonzales poll.
The poll’s margin for error is 3.5%, so that number is virtually unchanged.
“What surprised me was the absence of surprises,” said Gonzales partner Laslo Boyd. The pre-eminence of the economy as the top issue for 54% of the electorate is “a stunningly high number,” up 11% since September.
On a question about the large budget deficit Maryland is facing, Republicans and independents have bought the argument that it is “the result of too much spending by government,” with 71% of Republicans and 46% of independents favoring that position. A majority of Democrats (57%) believe that “declining tax revenues” from the economic downturn have caused the budget problems.
O’Malley’s approval numbers are “not sensational, but they’re not bad,” said Boyd, who has served as a consultant and manager for Democratic campaigns. “I don’t think [O’Malley’s camp] might be panicky.”
“The question is will anything happen in the next few months to change things,” Boyd said. Ehrlich is analyzing his chances for a success in a rematch with O’Malley, and “he’s got to figure out an advantage” over O’Malley, beyond appealing to his GOP base.
The poll found Ehrlich is favored over O’Malley by only 16% of Democrats, a key figure, Boyd said. When he won in 2002 over Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Ehrlich got 30% of the Democratic vote. Maryland now has an even higher number of registered Democrats than it did then, Boyd noted.
President Obama continues to enjoy higher job approval ratings in Maryland (56%) than he gets in other parts of the country. And Sen. Barbara Mikulski, seeking her fifth six-year team this year, continues to be the most popular statewide politician, with nearly two-thirds of voters (64%) approving of her performance.
“We think the governor starts in a very strong position” O’Malley campaign manager Tom Russell said. “We think his job approval is pretty strong,” given the economic and budget problems he has encountered.
O’Malley also starts in a strong position financially for this year’s race with $5.7 million in the bank, having raised $4.8 million last year, according to Russell.