When Marylanders speak their minds these days, their collective voice talks of worry and blame -- worry for an economy that has pushed them out of work or to the edge of their paychecks, and blame for every institution of power in sight, whether it's Congress, banks, big business or labor.
Those are the results of The Sun Poll of 1,210 Maryland registered voters, taken Feb. 10-15. The numbers show a population that is disillusioned, seeing government as a tool of the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the middle class.
People are also pessimistic, doubting that Congress and the president can find a long-term remedy for the economy.
Yet traces of idealism remain. Those polled indicated a willingness to help the homeless and poor despite their wariness of government welfare programs.
Marylanders still yearn for any presidential candidate who might have a master plan. As the national campaign lurches toward the state for the March 3 primary election, people say they not only want someone who can fix the economy but who will also tell them the cold, hard truth.
"All of these politicians, they get on there and offer you a storybook ending: 'If you vote for me I'll solve your problems.' " said Denise Fuller, 43, of Harford County, "And time after time these people get re-elected, and we just get deeper in the hole.
"I'd like to hear someone admit, 'Look, I don't have all the answers,' or even be a little novel and have some working solutions. They always give you these catch phrases and buzzwords.
"I'd just like to say to some of them, 'Well, how are you going to do this?' "
Like 69 percent of those polled, Mrs. Fuller cited the economy as the nation's most troubling problem. Nothing else was even close. The economy is also the theme of the message people would most like to tell to the field of presidential candidates.
"People are living from paycheck to paycheck," said Mrs. Fuller, who has gone back to school to earn a college degree so she can earn a better living for her family of four. "More and more people are slipping from the middle class into the working poor, and the working poor are slipping into welfare. And I don't see how people on welfare make it at all."
Such sentiments are typical in a state that has been one of the hardest hit by the recession -- 70,000 more people were out of work in December than four years earlier.
During the next nine days Maryland will get a national forum for its frustration as presidential candidates troop in and out with their promises and platforms.
Though the campaign is young, the candidates are already used to such discontent, having just heard the same messages in New Hampshire, which has been suffering even more than Maryland.
New Hampshire voters lashed out at all parts of the power structure, and the poll indicates that Marylanders are doing the same, declaring open season on every culprit offered up for recrimination. Congress was at the top of the hit list, judged to be "very much" to blame by 51 percent, and at least somewhat to blame by 95 percent.
President Bush came out better, but hardly unscathed. About 30 percent cited him as very much at fault, while 86 percent said he was at least somewhat to blame.
Banks and business executives did about as badly as the president, and the criticisms of them echoed the themes cited about members of Congress. They have grown aloof and out of control, voters complain, enriching themselves while paying only passing attention to the misery of the populace below.
Yolanda Chrzanowski, 45, a federal employee from Anne Arundel County, said of the banks, "They are just robber barons. I think it's just outrageous Congress deregulated banking the way they did. You don't want Big Brother Washington, but you need some things to keep people in line."
As for the corporate world, her disgust is symbolized by the new Buick she bought in 1985. Three months later it needed a major repair. Five years after that, "it was falling apart."
Two years ago she bought a used Japanese car, "and it's wonderful."
"The executives of these companies make me want to throw up," she said. "They're making $300,000 in bonuses, and they're laying people off -- a company that's losing money for five years in a row."
Marylanders also blame labor unions for their plight, but less so than business, with 23 percent citing unions as very much to blame and 72 percent as at least somewhat to blame.
One fallout from this widespread finger-pointing is, for many, an alienation from the government they voted into office. About 52 percent of the poll respondents said they "strongly agreed" that most elected officials are out of touch with the problems of people like them, and 82 percent at least somewhat agreed.
People haven't always felt this way about their government, many said when interviewed, and references to a past idealism seemed particularly strong in conversations with "baby boomers."