More than four in 10 Marylanders haven’t made up their minds about Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but many express optimism about the direction of the state after just his first month in office.
The results are part of a poll of 619 people surveyed last week by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.
“The people who don’t know are basically Democrats who are undecided on him,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at the Towson college and the director of the polling center. “I don’t know if it’s the benefit of the doubt or a honeymoon period.”
Nearly 33 percent of those interviewed said they had a favorable or strongly favorable opinion while nearly 21 percent said they had unfavorable on strongly unfavorable opinions of Hogan. More than 45 percent said they were undecided.
When asked about how Hogan is doing his job since being sworn-in Jan. 21, more than 39 percent had a favorable or strongly favorable opinion compared to nearly 17 percent who disapproved or strongly disapproved. Again, more then four in 10 people said they were undecided.
Details of the poll showed that in both cases support fell along party lines — more than 70 percent of Republicans said they had favorable opinions Hogan and approved of the job he was doing, Conversely, about 27 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Hogan and 18 percent approved of his job.
In both questions, more than 50 percent of Democrats asked said they remained undecided on Hogan.
Winning the undecideds
Winning over those undecideds in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin could hinge on how Hogan and the legislature resolve issues surrounding funding for education.
“In the end, cutting everything else is fine,” Kromer said.
In an open-ended question in which respondents were allowed to provide their own option for places in the budget that should not be cut, nearly 57 percent said education spending should not be reduced.
Hogan has come under fire from Democrats in the legislature for only partially funding a non-mandatory formula that provides more money to poorer jurisdictions and areas where the cost of living is higher, such as Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Additionally, Hogan is proposing capping increases in education funding to about 1 percent annually for the next six years even though enrollment is projected to grow at about twice that rate.
Legislators have vowed to find ways to restore the funding, and Hogan has signaled he is willing to consider an increase if the legislature can identify funding to pay for it.
On the poll question dealing with what areas should not be cut, transportation funding was a distant second with 11 percent of respondents saying the money that funds highways and transit projects should be preserved. Public safety, social services, public health, the environment, and retirement-salaries-jobs for government employees all polled at 6 percent or less.
In a separate question about what items should be cut, only 4 percent said they wanted education funding reduced.
That comes at the same time that 48 percent of those polled identified pocketbook issues — the economy and jobs, taxes, and the budget deficit — as three of the top four issues facing the state. Coming in third was education.
“Education is the first thing that came to people’s minds,” Kromer said. “But really, at the end of the day, Hogan didn’t run on being the education governor he ran on being the cutting taxes and bringing business to Maryland governor.”
Moving in the right direction
“People are optimistic,” Kromer said, adding that while “education will be a sticking point,” Hogan has some wiggle room to return to the table and negotiate with Democrats.
Meanwhile, Kromer said, those polled are generally more optimistic about the direction of the state.
Nearly 54 percent of people said the state was moving in the right direction compared to 34 percent that responded the state was on the wrong track with about 21 percent undecided.
Those figures are almost the reverse of the results on a similar question asked in a Goucher Poll taken in September 2014.
In that poll, 52 percent said the state was on the wrong track compared to nearly 38 percent that said Maryland was moving in the right direction with about 10 percent undecided.
Hogan has “given people a little hope going forward on the economic viability of the state.”
Legislators also benefit
State legislators also benefit from this newfound optimism, according to Kromer and the poll.
Nearly 46 percent of people polled approved of the job the General Assembly was doing compared to 33 percent who disapproved.
Those numbers are slightly better than the results of the September Goucher Poll.
Just five months ago, about 39 percent of those polled approved of the job the legislature was doing while 37 percent disapproved.
“A lot of this has to do with the current bipartisan good feelings,” Kromer said.
Additionally, 76 percent of those polled said they believe the current spirit of bipartisanship between Hogan and the Democratic controlled legislature would stay the same or increase. Only 21 percent said they believed it would diminish over time.