In Poll, Glendening Has Narrow Lead
and Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 25, 1998; Page A1
Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) holds a narrow lead among likely voters as the Maryland governor's race enters its final week, but a low turnout or small shifts among wavering voters could make Ellen R. Sauerbrey the first Republican governor in 32 years, according to the latest Washington Post poll.
Few voters remain undecided, and only modest numbers say there's a chance they will switch by the Nov. 3 election. That suggests the winner will be the candidate who generates the greater turnout among core supporters.
Glendening currently leads Sauerbrey 49 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, an advantage that's just beyond the survey's margin of sampling error. Four percent were undecided, and 3 percent declined to reveal their choice.
But the Post poll shows that Sauerbrey does better among hard-core, determined voters who are expected to go to the polls no matter what. If voter turnout is particularly low such as in 1990, when fewer than a third of all Maryland adults cast ballots Sauerbrey would surge into a small lead, according to the poll.
Not surprisingly, Glendening is focusing much of his energy on prompting a hefty turnout among African Americans, usually the Democrats' most reliable voter group. The governor is airing TV ads attacking Sauerbrey's civil rights record, in hopes of persuading blacks to vote against the Republican even if they're not enthusiastic about voting for him.
Still, Glendening has a 79 percent to 13 percent advantage among African American voters, while Sauerbrey holds a 53 percent to 40 percent lead among white voters, the poll shows. Overall, the poll suggests a replay of the close election four years ago, in which Glendening beat Sauerbrey by fewer than 6,000 votes out of 1.4 million cast and there was heartening news for both candidates in the findings.
Among voters in general, any last-minute switching may benefit Sauerbrey, the survey suggests. Barely half of Glendening's voters say they strongly support their candidate, while seven in 10 Sauerbrey supporters expressed a similarly strong commitment to her.
The survey suggests that Glendening is running ahead of Sauerbrey in the Washington suburbs and leads by a narrower margin in the Baltimore area. Sauerbrey leads on the Eastern Shore, with the two running neck-and-neck in other areas of the state. In 1994, Glendening carried only Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.
The survey also suggests that both nominees are driving home some of their main campaign themes. Sauerbrey appears to be gaining with her pledge to cut taxes for retired people and improve Maryland's business climate, and Glendening may be benefiting from his attacks on the GOP nominee for her past opposition to abortion rights and gun control. The governor gets surprisingly little political benefit from the state's good economic times.
Told of the results, Glendening said he is pleased that "we are starting to open up a margin" in this and other polls. "This is clearly going to be a battle of turnout," he said. "That's why for the last three weeks we have been focusing on our supporters all over the state."
A total of 1,106 randomly selected voters who said they were "absolutely certain" to vote next month were interviewed Oct. 18-22 for this survey.
Of that total, 919 were labeled "likely voters" those people in the survey who were even more likely to vote. That determination was based on questions about their recent voting history, interest in the election and commitment to their current choice. This group makes up about 40 percent of the voting-age population in Maryland, nearly identical to the percentage of adults who voted four years ago.
The sample also included 743 "certain voters" those who were determined to be the most committed to voting next month. This group makes up about 32 percent of all adults, or about the same proportion that turned out in 1990, when the gubernatorial race sparked little excitement.
The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on likely voters and 4 percentage points for results based on "certain voters."
Each candidate has portrayed the other as being untrue to their pasts. Glendening says Sauerbrey is trying to obscure her conservative record; she says he has flip-flopped on President Clinton and other matters. More voters view Glendening as wishy-washy, with 57 percent saying he changes his positions too often on important issues (compared with 41 percent who say that of Sauerbrey).
But Marvin Dunham, a 60-year-old baker from Suitland, said he will vote for Glendening, who "has done a fairly decent job as governor." Dunham, who is black, said Sauerbrey "didn't vote for a civil rights bill. That would concern me very much."
Glendening's TV ads have highlighted the 1992 legislative vote, although Sauerbrey has noted that the issue was not related to race.
Dunham is the type of voter only moderately supportive of Glendening but anxious about Sauerbrey that the governor must get to the polls, analysts say. It may not be easy.
"A lot of black voters will say, 'Ellen Sauerbrey can't hurt me.' They won't bother to vote. ... I think you're looking at a very low turnout," said Del Ali, a Maryland-based pollster for Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research.
Blacks have made up as little as 12 percent of the Maryland electorate in recent off-year elections (such as this one) and made up 19 percent in the 1996 presidential election, even though African Americans account for about a quarter of the state's population.
In the Post poll, 19 percent of all likely voters were black. If black turnout is similar to that of four years ago, Glendening's lead among likely voters shrinks to 47 percent to 46 percent a statistical tie and Sauerbrey's advantage increases among those certain to vote, the Post poll found.
The survey suggests Glendening's initial snub of Clinton may have backfired: Six in 10 black voters said Glendening should show "more support" for Clinton than he has. And Clinton's job approval rating among Maryland's black voters is an astronomical 92 percent 17 percentage points higher than Glendening's.
A low turnout doesn't hurt Glendening, of course, if it's Republicans who stay home. "Some people felt 1994 was the conservative turnout watershed year," said Glendening campaign spokesman Peter Hamm, referring to a GOP tide that gave Republicans control of Congress and nearly put Sauerbrey in office. "So lower turnout doesn't necessarily hurt us."
While Glendening needs a big turnout among women, voters in the Washington suburbs and blacks, Sauerbrey is counting on white voters, men and Christian evangelicals groups that traditionally do vote, even in low-turnout elections.
Glendening has made environmental safeguards, gun control and abortion rights central campaign themes, and all three issues appear to be helping him. For instance, 80 percent of likely voters said he "is doing a good job protecting the environment." Only 50 percent said Sauerbrey would do a good job, and 39 percent said she would do a poor job.
By a 10 to 1 ratio, voters say it should be harder rather than easier to obtain a handgun in Maryland. That's a big reason Glendening has spent so much time attempting to link Sauerbrey to the National Rifle Association, a tactic Sauerbrey has derided as unfair.
But those efforts seem to be paying off: Nearly a third of all likely voters say gun control is "extremely" important to them. Among these voters, Glendening holds a 2 to 1 advantage.
Glendening also has a modest lead in the poll among voters who say abortion is a top voting issue. Among voters who believe abortions should be harder to obtain, Sauerbrey leads 58 to 36 percent. But Glendening holds a similar-size lead among voters who favor abortion rights, and there are substantially more of them.
Education remains the single most important issue to Maryland voters. Forty-three percent said improving public education is "extremely" important to them. Among these voters, Glendening leads Sauerbrey 57 to 37 percent. He also holds an advantage among voters who rate crime as a top issue, largely because African Americans are more likely than whites to view crime as a critical concern.
By 52 percent to 41 percent, voters said government should attempt to reduce traffic congestion by providing more public transportation rather than by building more roads. Among voters who favor public transportation a big theme for the governor Glendening has a 59 percent to 36 percent lead. But among those who favor more road construction an issue for the GOP nominee Sauerbrey's lead over Glendening is also large.
Sauerbrey's strongest issues appear to be taxes and the economy. One reason is the widespread perception that the state isn't doing as well as it should be. That concern intensifies when voters look across the Potomac River to Virginia's booming economy.
By 54 percent to 24 percent, Maryland voters say Virginia is better at promoting business and attracting new jobs. That view is especially prevalent in the vote-rich Washington suburbs. That's bad news for Glendening, who must win big in those suburbs, his home base, to gain a second term.
A tax cut is central to Sauerbrey's candidacy, and 64 percent of likely voters said she "would keep taxes down." Fifty-two percent said they thought Glendening "is keeping taxes down," and 45 percent said he is not.
Sauerbrey also has a 53 to 40 percent lead among voters who rate cutting taxes as an important issue. But the survey also suggests that the tax issue, which nearly carried Sauerbrey to victory four years ago, has paled as an issue this year. Today, taxes lagged behind education, crime, the economy and gun control as a deciding issue for voters.
The survey found that Sauerbrey's plan to cut taxes paid by retirees is broadly popular with voters. Three in four say they approve, including two in three Glendening voters.
But support drops to well below half when supporters of the tax cut are told the plan would reduce state revenue by about $200 million annually, with most of the falloff occurring among Glendening voters.
Assistant polling director Claudia Deane contributed to this report.
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