Maryland voters strongly behind Kerry, poll shows

62 percent of state residents say nation is on wrong track

Democrat leads Bush by 17 points

Election 2004

October 28, 2004|By David Nitkin and JoAnna Daemmrich | David Nitkin and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Maryland voters overwhelmingly feel that the nation is veering in the wrong direction and support Sen. John Kerry in his race against President Bush by 56 percent to 39 percent, according to a poll conducted for The Sun and released today.

Disaffected by the war in Iraq and troubled by terrorism, the economy and the president's leadership, 62 percent of Marylanders surveyed this week said the country was on the wrong track, compared with 34 percent who said things were on the right path.

Six in 10 state residents said they disapprove of the job Bush is doing in the White House, a sentiment that translates directly into support for Kerry, said Thomas Riehle, president of Ipsos-Public Affairs of Washington, which conducted the survey.

"The election is more about whether you like and want to re-elect Bush than what your opinion of Kerry is," Riehle said.

Kerry's advantage in Maryland ranks among the largest in the nation, and reaffirms the state's status as the bluest of the blue states, or those expected to support the Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in Maryland, where Al Gore won by 17 percentage points in 2000.

"Clearly, it's in keeping with the Democratic bias in the state," said James G. Gimpel, a University of Maryland political scientist. "Democrats are feeling very strongly about their candidate, and especially hostile toward the opponent. I think you could expect the same sort of strong feeling in Kansas, where people would be very strong in their pro-Bush feelings."

Kerry has been riding a surge of popularity since the presidential debates, said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.

"People who had reservations with Kerry because they didn't know much about him have grown much more comfortable with him," White said. "The debates had everybody believing this man could be president."

In the poll, Kerry held a 17-point edge over Bush among 602 registered voters reached by phone Monday and Tuesday. His lead was higher, 59 percent to 38 percent, among likely voters.

The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points for registered voters and 4.6 points for likely voters, who made up a smaller sample. The figures include voters who described themselves as undecided but, when pressed, selected a candidate toward whom they were leaning.

Republicans questioned the poll's findings, countering that other surveys have shown Bush performing better in Maryland.

"Polls don't even show John Kerry that far ahead in his home state of Massachusetts," said Deborah Martinez, a spokeswoman for the state GOP.

A push for voter turnout and efforts to motivate the party faithful may not deliver Maryland's 10 electoral votes for Bush, Republicans said, but could produce dividends for GOP congressional candidates and others on the ticket.

Louis M. Pope, a Republican national committeeman from Howard County, said facts belie a conclusion that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

"Unemployment in Maryland is well below the national average. The stock market is up considerably; it's gone up for two years. The war in Iraq, I believe, is winding down," Pope said. "I don't see where we are on the wrong track."

Results of the Sun poll show significant gains for Democrats from previously published surveys, said Matthew Crenson, who teaches political science at the Johns Hopkins University. In addition to the debates and negative news about Iraq, Kerry has gained from the unintended consequences of Bush's campaign strategy, he said.

"His attacks on Kerry were seen as distasteful to many Democrats, especially the business with the Swift boats and trying to undermine his war record when clearly Bush doesn't have any record at all," Crenson said.

Interest in the presidential race appears high, with nearly 8 in 10 registered voters saying they were following news about the campaign either "a great deal" or "quite a bit."

Asked to select which issue was most important in deciding how they would vote for president, 22 percent of registered voters said leadership was the driving criterion, and 21 percent selected the Iraq war.

Jobs and the economy were ranked highest by 19 percent of voters, followed by terrorism, which 14 percent said was most important.

The level of satisfaction with Bush varied widely by region in Maryland, reflecting long-standing political differences that follow geographic lines.

In the Baltimore suburbs, 47 percent say they approve of the president, with 53 percent disapproving. In the Washington suburbs, more than 7 in 10 voters say they disapprove of Bush's job performance.

"What makes Maryland particularly fruitful for Kerry in the Washington suburbs is moderate Republicans who lean toward him," Riehle said. "Kerry does better in the D.C. suburbs than party ID and partisan preferences would otherwise suggest."

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