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Does Goucher poll show a session slump for Hogan?

Nearly two-thirds of Maryland residents polled in a newly-released Goucher College Poll say they approve of the job first-term Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is doing.

And while the job approval numbers are lower than a September Goucher poll — and much lower than a Gonzales Research & Media Services poll in January, Mileah Kromer, director of the college’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, discounts a drag by President Donald Trump. Instead, Kromer said the results this year are nearly identical to this time a year ago and are more representative of the governor sharing the spotlight with the General Assembly. 7a-annapolis-hogan-2018-budget-08-bps

Kromer called it a session slump and attributed the decline to Democrats getting more face time in the news and concerns by the public that not enough is being spent on education.

“Sixty-three percent is still really high, it’s still really good,” said Kromer, speaking of Hogan’s job approval but said Democrats are having an effect with their message because of “their equal command of the media space. That’s what’s doing it.”

The poll, conducted Feb. 18-21, surveyed 776 Maryland residents on a variety of subjects. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

The most recent job approval numbers are the first sign of a decline — though still high for an elected official —since Hogan took office. Since the fall, Hogan has seen his approval ratings surpass the 70 percent margin.

A poll conducted in January by Gonzales Research & Media Services found Hogan had a 74 percent approval. That figure was well within the margin of error of a Hogan internal poll that showed him at 76 percent.

Kromer said in the absence of a Trump drag “it has to be something and and that something has to be related to session.”

She said Hogan’s 2016 numbers could also represent “a bloat” of abnormally high job approval ratings.

But what exactly is causing a shift is up for debate.

Hogan, now in his third session, has not seen slumps in previous years. Polling last year did not show a decline.

Democrats in Annapolis, and their surrogates, have tried to tie Hogan to Trump at every turn since the day after the 2016 election.

“There doesn’t appear to be a Trump effect and if there is no Trump effect, something else is going on,” Kromer said.

  • Of those surveyed, 57 percent say they will definitely vote for or are leaning toward voting for Larry Hogan in 2018.
  • And while 17 percent disapprove of the job Hogan is doing, only 12 percent of that subgroup mentioned an issue related to Donald Trump.
  • And while 55 percent of those polled said Trump will influence their decisions in the coming election, Hogan’s support within that group so far seems firm. Nearly 50 percent of that subgroup said they approved of the job Hogan was doing. Additionally, more than 51 percent of those who said they disapproved of Trump said they gave Hogan a thumbs up on his job performance.
  • Nearly 44 percent of those polled — a plurality in the survey — said Hogan spends the right amount of time addressing national politics and related issues. An almost even number said he spends too little time or just the right amount of time on Trump’s executive orders — 33 and 34 percent respectively.

“Even people who say Donald Trump will make a difference in how they vote in 2018 still support Larry Hogan,” Kromer said.

“It’s not Donald Trump,” Kromer said. “It’s these issues about education that’s making the difference.”

Democrats in Annapolis are skeptical and point out quietly that the messaging on education hasn’t changed substantively at all from the previous two sessions when lawmakers criticized Hogan for not funding a then-optional cost of inflation education formula and last year when he refused to spend nearly $20 million in fenced-off funds that went to help local governments with teacher pension contributions.

Instead, a great deal of focus has been on Trump and tying the new president, who is highly unpopular in Maryland, around Hogan’s neck. Aside from paid sick leave, the major policy initiatives backed by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. — three bills and two resolutions — all focused on issues related to Trump and national politics.

The state Democratic Party has hired a new spokesman whose job it is “to hold Hogan accountable” which also includes lots of language tying Hogan to the new president.

And while the pollster said that Trump could play into Hogan’s chances of re-election, particularly if national policies have a direct effect on the state economy, it’s not a given.

“The fact is, there may not be a Trump effect at all,” she said.

Kromer cautioned that the poll is a snapshot in time and not “a crystal ball” for the coming election.

“The good news for Democrats is that their messaging is pulling (Hogan’s) numbers down,” Kromer said.

Kromer said most of that may center around education — a perennially important issue with voters along with crime in times of improving economies.

Hogan still has the high ground with voters who say they believe he has a better plan for the state’s economy and believe the state is moving in the right direction.

But voters are concerned about education spending — an issue Kromer said she feels could be providing the drag on the governor.

Even though education is funded by formula and is one of the major line items in the budget — more than $5.6 billion in direct aid to counties in the proposed spending plan — those surveyed said it’s not enough.

Sixty-six percent of Marylanders think the state spends too little on K-12 education compared to 23 percent who said the state spends the right amount. Only 7 percent said the state spends too much.

“Education matters,” Kromer said. “We live in a blue state and it’s reasonable to believe that people in Maryland will agree with some Democratic policies.”

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