Women line up behind O'Malley

Poll shows they help create strong lead over Ehrlich

November 06, 2005|By DAVID NITKIN | DAVID NITKIN,SUN REPORTER

Female voters are supporting Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in high numbers in the race for governor, helping create a double-digit lead over Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a general election match-up.

Female voters support O'Malley 50 percent to 29 percent, according to the latest poll for The Sun by Potomac Inc.

In a shift from conventional thinking, O'Malley, a Democrat, also leads Republican Ehrlich among male voters, 46 percent to 38 percent.

Overall, that's a smaller difference between men and women than is common in most recent national and state elections, said Karen Kaufmann, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park who has written extensively on the gender gap in elections. By voter registration, women nationwide are about 10 percent more Democratic than men, she said.

Women support Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, the other leading Democratic contender for governor, 43 percent to 32 percent over Ehrlich. Duncan gets 41 percent of the male vote, compared with 42 percent for Ehrlich.

"Right now, what you are finding is people that don't like Ehrlich," Kaufmann said.

A gender gap - or difference in candidate support between the sexes - is a regular feature of modern elections, Kaufmann said. In 1960, men and women were just as likely to be registered as Democrats or Republicans. But since then, she said, male party affiliation with the Democratic Party has dropped about 20 percentage points.

"Women are more liberal than men on many policy items, and in particular they are more liberal on social welfare issues," Kaufmann said. "I would have to assume that part of the gender gap is Ehrlich's position on social welfare issues. He has not been particularly faithful to his pledge to fund education at the secondary level or higher-education level."

Differences in gender support for O'Malley have shrunk in the past year.

In an April survey for The Sun, women supported the mayor over Ehrlich 49 percent to 33 percent, and men backed the governor 47 percent to 39 percent over O'Malley.

Carol L. Hirschburg, a Republican political consultant active in Maryland politics, said party operatives on both sides work on strategies to minimize their sex-based weaknesses.

"How they generally view this is Republicans are viewed as the `daddy' party, and Democrats are viewed as the `mommy' party," Hirschburg said.

For Republicans, she said, "you always try to overcome it by promoting the issues that appeal to women."

The gender gap almost always works in favor of Democrats in Maryland. Pollster Keith Haller calculates that about 53 percent of voters in state elections are women. And women are more likely to be registered as Democrats.

"I do believe O'Malley may be resonating with women," Haller said. "There is a concern about education, and basic Democratic issues. ... Certainly, educated women have tended to be one of the stalwart Democratic constituencies."

So why are men also supporting O'Malley in high numbers?

"Males are not as conservative in Maryland as you might find in Virginia, across the river," Haller said.

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

For comprehensive coverage and previous stories, go to baltimoresun.com/marylandpoll.

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