Glendening Leads by 12 Points, Poll Shows
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 21, 1998; Page A1
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening holds a double-digit lead over his chief Republican challenger and gets good marks from voters for honesty and business development, two issues his rivals are trying to exploit in this year's election, according to a new Washington Post poll.
But the statewide poll of 1,055 registered voters found that Glendening (D) is considered a rather uninspiring leader and that his support is soft. Half the voters currently inclined to vote for him say they might change their minds before the Nov. 3 election.
Moreover, many voters do not credit Glendening for increased school spending, reduced taxes and other accomplishments he trumpets. In fact, most voters are not aware that taxes were cut and crime fell during the past four years, the survey showed.
Among voters surveyed, 50 percent said they currently would vote for Glendening, and 38 percent for Sauerbrey. The remaining 12 percent had no opinion or preferred lesser-known candidates.
The poll suggests that Glendening whom national Republicans consider one of the most vulnerable Democratic governors up for reelection this year is stronger than conventional wisdom would have him. He holds a 2-to-1 advantage in the Washington suburbs and leads Sauerbrey in Baltimore but appears to trail in Western Maryland. His statewide lead is larger than those found in other Maryland polls over the past year.
Still, many would expect him to lead by more than 12 points, considering that he's an incumbent Democrat in a heavily Democratic state that's enjoying good economic times. In fact, his lead is similar to the one he held over Sauerbrey in a Post poll taken about four weeks before the 1994 election. In that contest, Sauerbrey closed quickly and came within 6,000 votes of winning, out of 1.4 million votes cast.
However, voters seem reluctant to credit Glendening for some of the state's accomplishments. Many say he strikes them as a lackluster, vague leader after four years in office. Glendening, who was not well known in 1994, has suffered several setbacks as governor, including controversies involving fund-raising efforts and pension benefits for himself and top aides.
Glendening, told of the poll results, said through a spokesman, "I'm pleased that Marylanders understand how much has been accomplished in the last four years," including programs to improve schools, the economy, the environment and public safety. "We're looking forward to continuing to educate all of the people of Maryland about that record."
Sauerbrey campaign spokesman Jim Dornan said, "Every other poll I've seen has us running neck and neck with Glendening. We still believe we're going to win this race and Parris Glendening is the weakest incumbent governor in the country."
The Post poll was conducted via random telephone interviews June 11-17. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for questions involving all 1,353 adults interviewed, and somewhat higher for questions involving only registered or likely voters or other subsets. To supplement the poll, the Post also conducted a focus group with 10 Maryland voters who said they had not yet committed to voting for either Glendening or Sauerbrey this fall.
Focus on Education
With the state's economy booming, education not pocketbook issues dominates voters' concerns this year. When residents were asked to name the one issue they most wanted gubernatorial candidates to address, one in four said education. That's double the percentage of four years ago.
About half as many (11 percent) mentioned crime. And just 9 percent said they wanted to hear the candidates talk most about taxes, down from 16 percent four years ago, when the issue nearly propelled Sauerbrey into the governor's mansion. Nine percent named the economy, also down from 1994.
"I just think that if we want things to get better in the future, our children need to be educated adequately," said Prince George's County resident Diane Whaples-Lee, 38, a day-care provider with two teenage daughters. "Overcrowding in schools, that's a real horrible thing," she said in the focus group.
According to the Post poll, Glendening does well with voters like Whaples-Lee, maintaining a 56 percent to 34 percent advantage over Sauerbrey among those who said education was their top voting issue. Among voters who don't rank education as highly, he has a much narrower lead (49 percent to 41 percent).
Still, many in the focus group were disappointed with Glendening's stewardship of state schools. They said they expected more from the former University of Maryland professor.
"I thought that he would be more into education and you would hear more about that," said Mary Beth Ricker, 34, a real estate appraiser from Monrovia. "I would say it's disappointing. I almost get the feeling that he went from the educator's job to the politician's job much easier than I thought he would" and in the process forgot his campaign promises and his roots too quickly, she said.
One-third of all Maryland voters say crime is their primary voting issue this year, a view most likely to be expressed by residents of the Baltimore area and those in Southern Maryland. In a troubling sign for Glendening, most voters think crime hasn't declined during his administration, when in fact property crime and violent crime have decreased in Maryland and many other states.
"When I moved into the area two years ago, I didn't see anywhere near as many crime reports as I do now," said Rosena Williams, 33, of Gaithersburg. "The sad thing is, it's being done mainly by young people."
A 'Beige' Leader
To many voters, Glendening is not a dynamic or inspiring leader. One-third of all Democrats polled, and 4 in 10 Republicans, said he isn't aggressive enough. And fewer than half of all likely voters said he's an inspiring leader.
"My first thought [of Glendening] was 'beige,' because there's this blank space when I think of him," said Ina Feinberg, an exhibit consultant from Bethesda. Four focus group members, who generally follow Maryland news, said they would be unable to identify Glendening if they saw his photo or passed him on the street. Several others could not name an accomplishment of his administration.
"I'm just sitting here thinking I don't really know that much about him," said Rich Allen, 39, an actuary from Gaithersburg.
However, several members of the focus group also criticized Sauerbrey, especially for her protests and court challenge after her narrow defeat in 1994.
"It makes her a less attractive candidate than she would have been had she gone gracefully and said, 'Hey, I'll just try again,'" said Merle Schulman, 68, a retired director of human resources for the Department of Energy.
But others said they weren't disturbed by Sauerbrey's 1994 post-election behavior. "I would like to kind of forget about that and just look at the future," Allen said. "If it's those two, who do I think is better for the four years? And not worry about" the past.
Most Maryland residents agree. By a 55 percent to 33 percent margin in the poll, they said Sauerbrey "conducted herself well in the 1994 race for governor," while 1 in 5 described her as "too aggressive."
In the area of campaign strategy, the poll suggests several opportunities and liabilities for Sauerbrey and Glendening. Although the governor mentions it in virtually every campaign ad or speech, Glendening might benefit from even greater efforts to inform voters that taxes and crime have fallen during his administration.
Only 18 percent of the adults surveyed realized that state income taxes have fallen during the past four years as a phased-in 10 percent income tax reduction began to take effect in January. Forty-eight percent thought taxes had increased, and the great majority of those people said Glendening was partly to blame.
Nonetheless, others said Glendening was as likely as Sauerbrey to keep taxes down. And Glendening's image as one who will resist tax increases is considerably stronger now than it was in the October 1994 poll.
All this suggests that Sauerbrey must rekindle taxpayer anger and reposition herself as the better tax-cutter if she is to overtake Glendening. According to the poll, she leads Glendening by a 51 percent to 38 percent margin among voters who say taxes are their primary voting concern. But the governor surges ahead by an equally large margin among voters who say taxes are one of several important issues this year, a group that currently constitutes more than half of all voters.
Despite recent headlines about falling crime rates, 47 percent of those surveyed thought crime had increased, and most of them felt the governor was partly to blame. Thirty-nine percent correctly said the crime rate has fallen, and 7 in 10 said Glendening deserved at least some of the credit.
Half of those surveyed realized that welfare rolls are down and public school spending is up, two issues that could help the governor. In general, however, Marylanders seem reluctant to give Glendening credit.
The poll suggests that Sauerbrey's attacks on Glendening's honesty which some Democratic candidates have joined have had modest effect. Sixty-two percent of the likely voters said Glendening "is honest," the exact same percentage Sauerbrey got.
"My general perception [of Glendening] is positive," said focus group member David Alperin, 31, a management analyst for a federal regulatory agency. "I would consider him, I guess, an honest politician if there could be such a term."
Claudia Deane, the Post's assistant director of polling, contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company