More than half of likely Maryland voters favor banning the sale of handguns in the state, according to a poll released yesterday.
A majority of voters also would prefer that Maryland's record budget surplus be put into "pressing priorities" such as education rather than be used for a tax cut, the poll found.
The survey on legislative priorities was conducted last weekend -- halfway through the 90-day General Assembly session -- by Potomac Survey Research of Bethesda and was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 likely Maryland voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percent.
"That was the surprising finding -- that a majority of Marylanders support an outright ban on handguns," said Steven R. Raabe, executive vice president of the polling company.
While a majority of voters favor a handgun ban, there are sharp divisions in the electorate on the question.
Overall, respondents favored a ban 54 percent to 43 percent, with 3 percent undecided. But in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, 52 percent of those polled said they oppose such a measure. A ban is favored by two-thirds of women, but opposed by 57 percent of men, according to the poll.
There are no proposals to ban the sale of handguns pending before the legislature, though Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. issued a report last year calling for an eventual ban on private ownership of handguns.
There is, however, a proposal by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to require that all new guns sold in the state be designed so they can be fired only by their owners. And the poll found that an overwhelming majority of Marylanders -- 69 percent to 29 percent -- favors the so-called Smart Gun legislation. The support cuts across geographical, political, racial and gender lines, according to the survey.
The state's more conservative rural areas back the legislation, the poll shows, even though the handguns are still in the design stage and are far from being available.
On the tax issue, legislative leaders have proposed accelerating the state's phased-in, five-year 10 percent income tax cut by one or two years. The poll found that a majority of voters would rather see Maryland's $1 billion surplus spent than refunded.
By 59 percent to 32 percent, voters in all regions of the state said they believe the money should go to priorities such as education. Seven percent of those polled said they would like to see a combination of increased spending and tax cuts, and 2 percent were not sure, the poll showed.
As with a handgun ban, the question of how the state should use the budget surplus also broke along gender lines, with 41 percent of men favoring the tax cut, compared with 24 percent of the women polled.
By contrast, 68 percent of women favored spending the money on needs, compared with 49 percent of the men, the poll showed.
The survey also found:
Voters favored using a portion of Maryland's sales tax to fund mass transit projects, 59 to 32 percent, with 9 percent unsure. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, has proposed dedicating 20 percent of sales tax revenue for transit. Nowhere in the state was support stronger than in the traffic-clogged Washington suburbs, where 72 percent of those polled favored putting the money into mass transit.
Marylanders are giving Glendening his highest approval rating, according to the survey. The poll showed 56 percent of voters approve of the job he is doing as governor, compared with 30 percent who said they disapproved. Fourteen percent said they were not sure. His greatest support was in his home county of Prince George's, where 74 percent of those polled said they approved, compared with 18 percent who disapproved.
Building the long-debated Inter-County Connector (ICC) highway link between Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- a plan abandoned by Glendening -- was favored by those polled by a 49 to 20 percent margin. Another 23 percent said they don't care whether the highway is built and 8 percent said they were not sure.
Potomac Survey Research conducted and paid for the survey on its own, not for a particular client, Raabe said.