The casino-backed committees on the two sides of the gambling debate have each spent at least $13 million to persuade Maryland voters, but The Sun poll shows that opponents may be getting more bang for their buck.
According to the poll, 53 percent of Maryland voters oppose Question 7, which would permit table games at Maryland casinos and allow a new gambling palace in Prince George's County, while 38 percent would vote yes.
Meanwhile, those against the gambling measure have opened up a huge gap in voter enthusiasm, with 43 percent of opponents saying their views are strongly held. On the other side, only 24 percent say they are strong in their support.
The results are especially challenging for gambling supporters, led by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment, because the pool of voters describing themselves as undecided is shallow, 8 percent.
Opposition to the expansion cuts across party lines — even though the measure that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot is the work of a Democratic governor and General Assembly. Republicans are rejecting the measure by 67 percent to 26 percent. But Democrats, too, are opposed, 46 percent to 44 percent. Independents and third-party supporters say they will vote no, 56 percent to 36 percent.
The Democratic rejection of the gambling measure is largely driven by negative numbers in the party stronghold of Montgomery County, where 54 percent of voters plan to vote no and only 34 percent yes.
The margin could be an indication that the proponents' arguments that the proceeds from expanded gambling would benefit education are not convincing voters. Opponents, led by Penn National Gaming, have pushed the theme that there are no guarantees that the money will remain in the schools.
Some voters support gambling philosophically but don't like the manner in which Gov. Martin O'Malley and General Assembly leaders got the measure on the ballot. They include James H. Thomas Jr., a 61-year-old UPS retiree from Dundalk, who plans to vote no.
"O'Malley handled this behind closed doors," Thomas said. "It was put off to a special session. There are tax deductions for whoever runs these gambling conglomerates. I really don't like that."
In Prince George's County, which is expected to gain an important new revenue stream if the measure passes, voters are giving Question 7 only tepid support — 52 percent yes to 42 percent no.
Raabe said that if support doesn't pick up in Prince George's, the measure is likely doomed statewide.
"They should be for it by 30 points," Raabe said. "Even Prince Georgians are pretty lukewarm about it."
The measure does have strong supporters in the county, including Myra Henderson of Hyattsville. Like a 56 percent to 32 percent majority of African-Americans, the 62-year-old retired Social Security Administration employee says she will vote yes, partly because she likes to gamble and would enjoy a casino at National Harbor — the most likely location if the voters approve.
"It would be closer to home," she said. "Why go to Atlantic City or wherever, when you could go right here?"
The modest margin of support in Prince George's is more than offset by heavy opposition in Baltimore. City voters currently oppose the measure, 57 percent to 34 percent, despite Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's support.
Of the three high-profile issues on the ballot, the Dream Act has received the least attention and voters are the most conflicted on it.
"This issue is still completely up for grabs," Raabe said. "It is getting drowned out in a presidential election year."
The law would give some illegal immigrants access to the lower, in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities. To qualify for the lower rates, the students would have to show that their parents have filed tax returns for three years and they would have to have graduated from Maryland high schools.
The Dream Act would likely get a boost from the presidential race, since African-Americans, who support it 56 percent to 32 percent, are expected to come out in large numbers, Raabe said.
"As African-Americans, we had to go through something for education, for fair education," said Paul Stanley, a 78-year-old Bethesda man who said sees parallels with the civil rights and women's rights movements. "We had to go through the same thing. It is like a stem off the same branch."
On both sides of the tuition issue, voters have strong feelings, the poll found. "Children who are brought here by immigrant parents don't have a choice," said Connie Saltarelli, a 60-year-old Charles County Republican who will support the Dream Act. "They have every right to have residential college rates at state universities."
Statewide, white voters oppose the law, 47 percent to 39 percent. Among them is Joseph Raymond Sachs, a 58-year-old unemployed carpenter from Glen Burnie.
"That's why I'm out of a job," he said. "All these immigrants are taking all the work."
How the poll was done
OpinionWorks, an Annapolis research firm, did telephone interviews with 804 likely Maryland voters over three days, Sept. 25 to Sept. 27. According to customary statistical standards, this sample produces a margin of error of no more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that 95 percent of the time, the "true" figure would fall within this range if every likely voter in Maryland had been interviewed.