Scissors on a budgetA majority of Marylanders say the economy is the most important issue facing the state, and the state budget is a crisis or at least a major problem, according to a new poll.

But Marylanders disagree on how to solve the budget problem: cut spending, raise taxes, or a combination of both.

The Gonzales Research poll of 805 voters completed last week found that 21% of the respondents favored cutting services such as education and health care, 30% supported raising taxes, and 34% favored a combination of both to eliminate a budget deficit.

When asked which state service was the “most important to protect from budget cuts,” K-12 public was the top choice (30%), followed by health care for children (15%) and public safety (13%).

The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%.

Good news for Cardin

The telephone survey also offered good news to Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin in his re-election bid. A third of voters (32%) say they would definitely vote for him, and another third (31%) — including one third of Republicans — said they would consider voting for him.

That’s “not the result a Republican hopeful for the office wants to see,” said pollster Patrick Gonzales.

O’Malley maintains approval

Overall, Maryland voters are divided on whether the state is headed in the right direction, with 47% saying it is not. This includes a vast majority of Republicans and many independents.

Despite uncertainty on whether Maryland is moving forward, Gov. Martin O’Malley “maintains a fairly solid position with the state’s electorate overall,” Gonzales said. More than half of those polled (52%) approve of the job is O’Malley is doing as governor, and 40% disapprove. The rating is as high as when O’Malley took office in 2007. The only higher approval rating for the governor in the last four years was the 58% rating he got earlier this year. Most of the rest of the time, fewer than half approved of his job.

Broken down by party, 71% of Democrats approve of O’Malley’s performance. Almost three quarters of Republicans (74%) don’t.

President Obama’s approval rating in Maryland is at its lowest since he took office, with 49% in favor of his job in office. About 47% disapprove of the president, including nine out of 10 Republicans and more than half of independents.

“Loyal opposition is one thing,” Gonzales said, but “no incumbent, however, wants to see this level of antipathy from the opposing party.”

–Len Lazarick