Slots for tracks, no tax increases, Marylanders say

Maryland Poll finds shift on gambling from 1998

Economic worries increasing

The Maryland Poll

July 26, 2002|By Howard Libit and David Nitkin | Howard Libit and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Maryland voters are increasingly worried about the economy and their own pocketbooks, and they prefer that the state's budget woes be solved through program cuts rather than higher taxes.

The Maryland Poll, conducted by Potomac Survey Research for The Sun and The Gazette newspapers, found that likely voters are willing to pay higher taxes for public schools - but a majority also backs legalizing slot machines at racetracks as a less painful way to raise revenues.

The support for slot machines - 51 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed - represents a significant shift from 1998, when 39 percent of Maryland voters backed expanding gambling at racetracks and 48 percent opposed it.

While 54 percent of Baltimore residents objected to slots at racetracks four years ago, 51 percent now favor them. The machines are supported by a majority of both white and black voters in every area of the state, except Montgomery County.

"Some traditional Democratic constituencies would be willing to support slots," said Keith Haller, president of the Bethesda firm that conducted the poll.

"This is a pretty dramatic shift in four years."

The poll of 1,200 registered likely voters was conducted by telephone from July 17 to July 19 and has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points. The margin of error increases for smaller groups of voters, such as specific jurisdictions or members of a single party.

The results released today come as the poll shows Maryland's gubernatorial race to be a virtual tie, with Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. making large gains on the early lead of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Voters' opinions on the challenges facing the state appear to be breaking more favorably toward Ehrlich, Haller said, particularly on such issues as slots, crime and transportation.

"It seems to play to the agenda that Ehrlich is pushing," he said.

Concerns about the state budget and the condition of the economy are growing more pronounced, and Maryland's electorate appears to be increasingly fractured over the top problems it believes government needs to solve.

Crime dominates the concerns of the Baltimore area voters, traffic tops the list of those living in Montgomery County, and Prince George's County voters remain worried about the tumultuous state of their school system.

As in virtually every opinion poll, Maryland voters remain most concerned about education, with one in five volunteering it as the most important problem facing the state today.

But that's less than the 28 percent who said education was their top concern in July 1998.

Voters in the poll give Townsend a decided edge in saying she would do better than Ehrlich in improving public schools.

Difficult choice

Perry Savoy, 39, a commercial office designer who lives in Baltimore, said teachers should be paid better, and he is reluctantly supporting Townsend because he thinks Democrats have more credibility on education.

"It's a difficult one," Savoy said of the governor's race. "I am not terribly excited about Townsend right now. But if the election were today, or tomorrow, and since I always vote, I would vote for her."

Crime has slowly edged up among voters' top concerns in recent months, particularly in the Baltimore area - though it's less significant statewide than it was in the 1998 poll.

Despite Townsend having focused heavily on anti-crime programs during her more than seven years as lieutenant governor, voters perceive Ehrlich would do a better job on criminal justice issues.

"It's such a big concern for the city, and I think Ehrlich is the guy who will get tougher on it," said Judith Jansak, 67, a registered Democrat in Timonium. "The lieutenant governor talks about it, but she hasn't really done a damn thing."

Townsend vowed yesterday to publicize her work to combat Ehrlich's edge. "You get the message out by talking to different groups," she said, speaking to reporters after receiving an endorsement from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a Baltimore-area coalition of clergy from 240 churches, synagogues and mosques.

"The IMA is going to be very helpful. It's going to lay out the fact that we've had the lowest crime rate in a generation," she said.

"We have a 40 percent reduction in gun-related violent crimes. Unlike as you saw Ehrlich try to attack, we've had a 28 percent reduction in the rate of juvenile Part I [violent] crimes.

"We've had a very strong record, and as soon as I tell you this, you can print it, and everybody will know it," Townsend said.

Public safety

By contrast, Ehrlich promoted an endorsement yesterday by the Maryland Troopers Association as evidence that he has the superior record on crime.

"Public safety is a priority, and it would be a priority every day in my administration," Ehrlich said. "Why hasn't this administration focused on bad guys with guns?"

The support by Ehrlich and Townsend for building the Intercounty Connector - a $1 billion highway across the Washington suburbs to relieve traffic congestion - proves to be particularly popular.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.