Liberal electorate tips hat to Bush

Results: A state known as one of the most Democratic in the nation has remarkably high praise for the Republican president's performance.

The Maryland Poll

January 10, 2002|By Sarah Koenig and David Nitkin | Sarah Koenig and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

In the aftermath of the September terrorist attacks, Maryland voters - among the most Democratic in America - are thrilled with the job George W. Bush is doing as they grapple with lingering security fears and economic uncertainties.

According to the latest Maryland Poll, Bush's approval rating is an astounding 83 percent among state voters, the vast majority of whom voted for Al Gore for president. When asked a year ago what kind of president Bush would be, only 45 percent predicted he would do a good job.

Similarly, 76 percent of the state's voters say they agree with all the steps the Bush administration has taken to root out terrorists. In a state with some of the most liberal social policies and most restrictive surveillance laws in the country, only 15 percent of voters say they're worried that civil liberties are eroding as a result of Bush's war on terrorism.

Keith Haller, whose research firm, Potomac Inc., conducted the poll for The Sun, said Bush's marks among voters are the highest for any president in modern Maryland history. They eclipse by almost 20 points those for Bill Clinton at the height of his popularity as president.

The survey shows that to be true even in the state's major Democratic strongholds - Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The most drastic increase was among African-Americans. A year ago, only 17 percent of black voters statewide said they thought Bush would perform well; now, 66 percent approve of the job he is doing.

"No one in their wildest dreams thought he would have these astronomically high positives," Haller said of Bush. "It will probably make [Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a possible gubernatorial candidate] and other Republican politicians sort of wistful about being swept along by Bush's magic carpet."

But, Haller warned, no politician can maintain such high ratings indefinitely: "The $64,000 question is, how long will it last, and even after it drops, will there be lasting political clout?"

Stereotypes don't apply

Flossie Shaw, of Seat Pleasant in Prince George's County, is representative of many of the poll's findings, some of which run counter to stereotypes.

She is a 79-year-old African-American - and grandmother to 37 -who grew up under North Carolina's Jim Crow laws. Ever since her family has had the right to vote, they have chosen Democrats, she says. Shaw voted for Gore in 2000, but now, for the first time in her life, she might back a Republican because she's so pleased with Bush.

"I think he's a wonderful president. I have no doubts about it," she said. "He's bringing all these people to justice. He's doing everything he can to make us safe."

Safety has weighed heavily on Shaw's mind. She still feels nervous when a plane flies overhead. And she's spending less money - starving her shoe addiction, buying fewer things for the house.

Yet she's comfortable with Republicans in charge. "What other people are always saying is that Democrats are better for poor people. To me, I don't see any difference," she said.

Economy as campaign issue

Maryland voters such as Shaw will add an interesting twist to coming elections, Haller says, as many races will be decided on the health of the state's economy.

The poll of 800 registered voters, which was conducted between Jan 2 and Jan. 4 and has a 3.5 percent margin of error, found that although there is significant worry about Maryland's economy, respondents feel more positive about it than do voters in some surrounding states and in many states across the nation.

For the first time since 1998, more Marylanders think the economy is getting worse (25 percent) than better (10 percent, falling from 21 percent a year ago). However, a solid 60 percent said the economy seemed to be staying the same.

Voters in Baltimore City are the most pessimistic - 40 percent say the economy is getting worse - compared with 15 percent in Prince George's.

Six percent of those polled - representing 11 percent of the employed respondents - say they are afraid of losing their jobs. But overall, 83 percent of voters said their personal finances were better or the same as they were four years ago, roughly the same response as in the last Maryland Poll a year ago.

Hopeful outlook

Sean Mangan of Columbia works for a computer company and has watched many of his colleagues get laid off. He has survived, but his job isn't guaranteed to last. Even so, he doesn't despair.

"I think we've hopefully hit bottom, and that we're coming back out of this," Mangan, 37, said of the economy.

Anirban Basu, director of applied economics with RESI, the consulting branch of Towson University, said he is not surprised that many Marylanders feel comfortable with their personal finances and those of the state.

The most profound effects of the recession have reached limited numbers of people: those who have lost their jobs, for example, or those who didn't receive end-of-year bonuses.

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