39% of Md. voters pleased with Schaefer, poll says

January 11, 1995|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer will leave office next week with a mediocre final report card from voters, a statewide poll indicates.

Only 39 percent of the electorate rates Mr. Schaefer's job performance during eight years in office as "good" or "excellent," according to the poll conducted over the weekend by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research Inc. for The Sun and other news organizations.

The remaining 61 percent regards his work as "fair" or "poor."

Once among the most popular governors in the nation with a positive performance rating of 68 percent in 1990, Mr. Schaefer's popularity plummeted to an approval rating of just 16 percent in March 1993. He rebounded to the current 39 percent last summer, according to previous Mason-Dixon polling.

The poll of 809 registered voters also found significant opposition to casino gambling, a desire to see voting practices reviewed and the state income tax cut, and support for limits on how soon a former legislator may become a lobbyist.

Del Ali, vice president of Mason-Dixon, said Mr. Schaefer's approval rating can be considered below average, ranking him 33rd among the 45 governors the firm has measured in opinion polls over the past year.

Mr. Schaefer's rating is far below that of top-ranked Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin who scored a 76, for instance. The Maryland Democrat is closer in ranking to two other governors, Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh (also with 39 percent) and California Republican Pete Wilson (with 35 percent as of September but re-elected in November), Mr. Ali said.

"[Mr. Schaefer] is lucky he's not running for re-election," Mr. Ali said. "His numbers were as low as some of the governors who were involved in scandals."

Mr. Ali said that Mr. Schaefer's descent started in January 1990 when he first began discussing tax increases and that his standing plummeted as news reports of his idiosyncratic behavior increased. The incidents ranged from tracking down and confronting irate constituents to comparing the Eastern Shore to an outhouse.

The governor's popularity suffered further when the recession forced a series of budget cuts, when he raised taxes, and when he endorsed the re-election bid of Republican President George Bush in 1992.

"The governor was forced into making some unpopular decisions during the depths of the recession to keep the state solvent, including $1.5 billion in cuts," said Joseph L. Harrison, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary. "When the economy went south, so did the governor's favorable ratings."

Mr. Harrison said the poll reflects a substantial improvement in the governor's image in two years, though it remains tarnished. "Let's face it, the governor has a strong personality and he's not going to be everybody's favorite," he said.

Mr. Schaefer remains popular with two groups, Baltimore residents and blacks statewide. An estimated 61 percent of city voters think he has done a good or excellent job, as do 63 percent of black voters.

As the Maryland General Assembly prepares to convene today in Annapolis, delegates might find the poll noteworthy -- it found strong opinions about some of the legislation that might be considered during the 90-day session.

The poll found that 59 percent oppose legalized casino gambling, while 36 percent favor it and 5 percent are undecided. When asked if they want riverboat gambling, 54 percent said they are opposed, 35 percent in favor and 11 percent undecided.

On other issues:

* In the wake of fraud allegations raised by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, 68 percent want a "thorough review of voting and vote-counting practices in Maryland."

* Sixty percent want the legislature to cut state income taxes this year -- an idea promoted by Mrs. Sauerbrey during the campaign and picked up recently by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany.

* In a possible sign that anti- incumbent fever has cooled, 69 percent of those polled disagree with the statement, "I generally prefer to vote for candidates without government or political experience." About 51 percent disagree with the statement, "I feel better about the legislature knowing that there are more Republicans in it than after the election in 1990."

* Sixty-two percent think it's unfair for former state legislators to be allowed to lobby the General Assembly immediately or soon after leaving office.

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