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The friendship gap

Former New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael would have probably felt right at home in Maryland and had a similar reaction regarding election of Larry Hogan as she did in her oft-quoted response to Richard Nixon’s ascent to the presidency.

Kael more than four decades ago is paraphrased as having lamented Nixon’s election because she didn’t know anyone who voted for him. (Kael’s actual quote is somewhat less juicy, apparently.) A question in a poll released last week by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College finds that if you’re a Democrat you probably have a lot in common with Kael in as much as you may have fewer Republicans in your circle of friends.

Gov. Larry Hogan shakes hands with Sen. Mike Miller in the Senate Chamber. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Gov. Larry Hogan shakes hands with Sen. Mike Miller in the Senate Chamber. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher and director of the poll, said the numbers by and large show something we’ve heard most of our lives whether it’s politics or just life in general.

“Political birds of a feather tend to flock together,” Kromer said. “There really is a friendship gap in Maryland.”

Eighty-two percent of the 514 likely Maryland voters surveyed in the poll said that politics comes up in their everyday conversations very or somewhat often — no surprise if you spend any time on Facebook.

For the most part Maryland voters appear to trend toward having fewer friends outside of their own belief circle, though Republicans do slightly better when it comes to the political diversity of their associates than Democrats do.

About 37 percent of Democratic voters said they had “some or a lot” of Republican friends. About 16 percent said they had just a few friends who were in the opposite party and 2 percent said they had no friends who were Republicans.

Conversely, 57 percent of Maryland Republicans in the survey said they had “some or a lot” of friends who are Democrats. About a third of those responding said they has a few Democratic friends, and 11 percent said they had no friends who were in the opposite party.

So why do Republicans tend to have more Democratic friends than vice versa?

Most likely, it’s simple math.

Kromer said it’s hard to say but some of it can be attributed to demographics in a state where Democrats outnumber their Republican counterparts by a 2-to-1 margin.

“I’m not sure if it’s just because of the sheer amount of Democrats in the state,” Kromer said. “It’s more difficult to get through life if your a Marylander and not make a Democratic friend than it is to make a Republican friend because of the (voter registration) ratio or if it’s that Republicans in Maryland are just more open to being friends with Democrats. I’m just not sure.”

Maybe it’s the political version of the Stockholm Syndrome, where outnumbered Republicans are just identifying a little with their perceived political captors?

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Republicans might be a little more open to making friends with the opposing party because they would be otherwise marginalized.

“You could try and spin it that (Republicans) are more open but I think it comes down to the numbers,” Eberly said. “If you look at national politics and go back a couple of decades to when the Democrats were the majority party in American with long-term control of Congress, Republicans in Congress tended to be more willing to compromise and work with Democrats because at the time they were a near-permanent minority. The only way they could ever have influence was by working with Democrats. So, if you’re a clear minority in the state, it makes no sense for you to sort of not get along with the Democrats because they can just completely shut you out.”