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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Poll: Maryland Voters Seem Comfortable with O'Malley and Ehrlich

A new poll confirms that the race for governor in Maryland continues to be tight. The latest Rasmussen Reports survey finds Martin O'Malley and Bob Ehrlich tied at 47% to 47%. The race has been tied all summer and nothing much has changed.  Recent campaign fundraising reports show that Martin O'Malley has a $4.7 million cash advantage over Ehrlich - and these numbers suggest that O'Malley will need that advantage to turn out the vote. Ehrlich needs to use these numbers to convince potential donors that he can in fact win this race - so long as he has the money to compete.

There are several truly interesting findings in the latest poll and as always they offer areas of hope and concern for both campaigns. An equal share of voters consider each candidate to be "mainstream." This should worry team O'Malley - in a state that is 2 to 1 Democrat one would expect voters to see the Republican as less mainstream. Likewise, the candidates have equal favorability ratings. The O'Malley camp wants to convince voters that the Ehrlich years were not good for the state - but this finding suggests that voters have a rather positive recollection of Ehrlich's tenure.

Likewise, 77% of respondents describe Ehrlich as Somewhat or Very Conservative. For O'Malley, 25% describe him as Moderate and 55% describe him as Somewhat or Very Liberal. These numbers tell us something important about the Maryland electorate - commentators obsess over the Democrats' 2 to 1 voter registration advantage in the state portraying Democratic voters as a monolithic group. This is simply wrong. While the Democratic Party in much of the nation has slowly purged itself of the social conservatives who once called it home there is still a strong element of those old school Democrats in Maryland - call them "Boll Weevils" or "Blue Dogs" they are Democrats by tradition, even though the party is no longer aligned with many of their core beliefs. This is why Republicans win in counties where registered Democrats outnumber them. In only 7 of Maryland's 24 counties (Baltimore City is, in effect, a county) do Republicans hold an advantage - and it's often a slim one (Harford only recently switched from plurality Democrat to plurality Republican). Yet Ehrlich carried 21 counties in 2002 and 20 counties in 2006.

A look at Maryland's Senate makes that clear - the sea of red are legislative districts represented in the state Senate by Republicans - yet most of the counties included in these districts are majority Democrat.
O'Malley should should be a bit concerned that he is tied with a candidate that 3/4 of Marylanders consider to be Somewhat or Very Conservative - it may suggest that that many voters like that about Ehrlich - or that in 2010 many voters are looking for a conservative candidate.

O'Malley can take heart in the fact that his job approval rating has finally topped 50% - reaching 54% in this poll. President Obama has a 56% approval rating, so the president is unlikely to be a drag on the O'Malley ticket.

All things considered, I would give an edge to Bob Ehrlich based on the favorability and mainstream ratings, but mostly based on the last two questions in the survey:

9* Generally speaking, how would you rate the U.S. economy these days? Excellent, good, fair, or poor?

  •  1% Excellent
  • 7% Good
  • 37% Fair
  • 55% Poor
  • 1% Not sure

10* Are economic conditions in the country getting better or worse?

  • 31% Better
  • 41% Worse
  • 23% About the same
  • 4% Not Sure
I would not want to be associated with the party in power heading into an election in which 55% of potential voters rate the economy as poor and 41% say it is getting worse. That's a strong tide for O'Malley to fight.

If Ehrlich can get his fundraising in order this may well become his race to lose.

* Image courtesy of RealClearPolitics.com