The chief antagonists in the high-stakes fight have together spent more than $65 million. MGM Resorts International and its allies have spent more than $32 million to persuade voters to approve a Prince George's County casino and allow table games such as baccarat and blackjack. Penn National Gaming, fearing that an MGM-operated casino at National Harbor would cut into its lucrative casino business at Charles Town, W.Va., has spent more than $33 million to defeat the measure.
Three-quarters of the voters surveyed said they either had not seen the ads or had not been swayed by them. Raabe cautioned that some voters who believe they haven't been persuaded by ads have nevertheless absorbed their messages.
"Some of these people are not owning up to the fact they are influenced by this," he said.
Yet with spending nearly even, neither side has moved the numbers much.
"There's so much advertising on both sides, they tend to drown each other out," Raabe said. "It's a total wash."
With Question 7 still running behind, a stalemate favors Penn National. Raabe said that company's message — that the gambling revenue promised for education would not actually go to Maryland schools — strikes a chord that resonates in focus groups he's seen.
"Voters are generally very skeptical and frustrated with public officials in terms of how officials keep their promises," he said. "The reason Penn National's advertising is successful is that they've tapped that vein in the electorate."
Kirsten Mackin, 44, a Democrat from Baltimore, has moved from undecided on the gambling question last month to leaning against it.
"I'm not against gambling. I'm not against table games, but I'm more against the way this bill was written," she said.
But Robert Nowlin Sr., 73, a Baltimore Democrat, believes strongly that expanded gambling should be approved. He knows opponents say the money would never reach the schools but says it's up to voters to be vigilant.
"I feel that it's up to us to get stronger on it and to see that the money does go where it belongs," he said.
Raabe said there are signs that proponents' most recent ads might be winning some support for the measure. Voters who decided in the past week broke in favor of gambling expansion, 55 percent to 45 percent. But he said that shift might be too little and too late.
"It's another one of those 'who knows?' questions," he said. "I think the opposition is pretty firm on this issue."
The Dream Act
The electorate overall is evenly split on the Dream Act, according to the poll, but there are sharp differences among demographic groups.
The measure receives significantly stronger support in the Washington suburbs than in the Baltimore region.
In Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Question 4 is favored by a margin of 57 percent to 34 percent; in greater Baltimore, despite strong support in the city, the measure trails, with 45 percent for and 49 percent against. The Dream Act is least popular in rural parts of the state, where opponents outnumber supporters by double-digit margins. Most black voters support the law; most Republicans don't.
Rabbe said there's evidence that late deciders are breaking 2-to-1 in favor, but they might not be as committed to voting as those who made up their minds early.
Kimberly Raffensparger, 50, a white Democrat from Glyndon, said that in recent weeks she has moved from undecided to supporting the measure. What she's learned about the eligibility requirements for in-state tuition has convinced her the program would not be a giveaway to immigrants.
"It seems like they have to jump through a number of hoops. I'm beginning to lean toward it," she said. "You have to prove you've been contributing toward the system and to me that's important."
Diane Aull, 59, of Perry Hall has moved from undecided to leaning against.
"If they're illegal, I say no," said Aull, a Republican. "There are too many people here in Maryland who need help."
The state's new congressional map has been criticized by Republicans and some Democrats as flagrantly gerrymandered, while the governor and General Assembly leaders describe it as fair and point out it has withstood legal challenges.
The map is an arcane question on an already busy ballot. Though it is believed to provide an advantage for Democrats in this mostly Democratic state, Raabe believes that there could be bad news for the party leaders in Annapolis who redrew it last year.
"It is close," Raabe said. "I'd be a little nervous if I were a supporter of this map."
The telephone survey of 801 likely voters was conducted by OpinionWorks, an Annapolis-based polling firm, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 23. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts