Poll: O'Malley leads Ehrlich by 9
A new statewide opinion survey, released early Wednesday, shows Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley leading Republican ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich by 9 percentage points in a hypothetical rematch.
The two-point drop in O'Malley's advantage, compared with a September survey by the same pollster, is not statistically significant (the poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points). In early November, a published poll by another firm showed O'Malley ahead by a slightly smaller margin, 7 points.
Still, many Ehrlich supporters will likely view the new results as evidence that the Republican is gaining as an unannounced challenger.
While O'Malley may be nervously looking over his shoulder--understandably, given the electorate's sour mood--the other major candidate in a 2010 statewide contest has yet to see a serious threat emerge.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, running for another six-year term this November, when she'll be 74, enjoys a job-approval score of 64 percent in the new poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies of Annapolis.
Mikulski "appears headed toward another easy re-election," Gonzales concluded in a report accompanying the survey results.
Her latest poll number seems to re-establish the Baltimore senator as the most popular politician in the state. Not even President Barack Obama can match her at this stage.
Obama received 56 percent job approval from Marylanders in the poll, a significantly higher grade than in the rest of the country in recent surveys.
But last January, the president's approval score in Maryland stood at 80 percent. Obama's current job numbers in the state remain very high among Democrats and African-Americans, with more than 80 percent of each group giving him a positive rating.
In a test matchup for governor, O'Malley was the choice of 48 percent of likely voters, compared with 39 percent for Ehrlich. Eleven percent described themselves as undecided.
Ehrlich, who looks, sounds and acts like a candidate but hasn't committed publicly to running, trailed O'Malley by 11 points in a Gonzales survey in September, 2009. In November, a Clarus poll showed O'Malley leading 47 to 40, which matched his 7-point victory margin in '06, a strong Democratic year, when he unseated Ehrlich.
This year is starting out as a dangerously weak one for Democrats, though there are still more than nine months to go until the November election.
O'Malley's job approval rating stands at 46 percent, down three points from the same time last year. That's not exactly confidence-inducing voter support for the governor's performance, but it may not be surprising, given the state's economic condition and the public mood.
More than nine in ten Marylanders say their family's financial situation is the same or worse than it was a year ago, when fears that the Great Recession might turn into a depression seemed very real. There have been signs that the state's economy has bottomed out, but the recovery appears sluggish and voter attitudes about the economy are traditionally a lagging indicator exiting a recession.
In the poll report, Gonzales drew attention to Ehrlich's 16 percent support among Maryland's Democratic voters. In 2002, when Ehrlich won, he picked up 30 percent of the Democratic vote.
"Any GOP candidate in 2010 will need to draw near Ehrlich's showing in 2002," concluded Gonzales.
But if Democratic voters are discouraged by the national political climate this fall, it could make it easier for Ehrlich to come close to the 30 percent level again.
Independents, the focus of much media attention right now, are splitting their allegiance between O'Malley and Ehrlich, according to the new poll, with the current governor favored by 39% and the old one getting 36%. Fully one in four independents described themselves as undecided.
However, true independents--those not registered with any party--make up a smaller share of the overall vote in Maryland than many other states. The latest voter-registration numbers show "unaffiliated" voters making up just under one-sixth of the overall total in Maryland.
In other findings, the poll shows that the economy is the issue of greatest concern to voters, with 54 percent listing it as the most important issue facing the state. Health care was far behind, at 11 percent, along with taxes (10 percent), the budget deficit (8 percent) and education (7 percent).
Attitudes toward the state's budget shortfall fell largely along partisan lines. When asked whether the deficit is the result of declining tax revenues in a slumping economy or too much spending by government, Democrats blamed the economy, by a two-to-one margin. Republicans faulted government spending, by an even more lopsided margin.
One of the few upbeat findings in the telephone survey of 816 likely voters, conducted between January 13 and January 17, was the outlook by Marylanders for the coming year.
More than two in five of those surveyed said they expected economic conditions in Maryland to be better a year from now than they are today. About half that proportion--one in four--said things would be worse and one in three said they expect conditions to be about the same.
For the complete poll report, try Gonzales Research online.