The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wes Moore leads Dan Cox in Md. Gov. race by 2-to-1 margin, Post-UMD poll finds

Moore shored up support among Democrats and about a fifth of Republicans in a lopsided contest. Political scientist: ‘It’s hard to see how Cox can win.'

Democratic nominee for Maryland Governor Wes Moore speaks during a Maryland Democratic Party's "Blue in '22" post-election unity event in downtown Silver Spring, MD on August 1, 2022. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Maryland Democrat and political newcomer Wes Moore holds a 32-percentage-point lead over Donald Trump-aligned Republican Dan Cox in the governor’s race five weeks before Election Day, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds.

Moore, a veteran and best-selling author, appears to have consolidated support among the Democrats who make up the majority of the electorate, with the poll finding 86 percent of registered Democrats saying they would vote for him if the election were held today.

But 22 percent of registered Republicans also say they would vote for him in November, leaving Cox with a slim path to victory.

“The election is still far enough away for a number of things to change, but given the fundamental features of this race, unless there is a shocking revelation, it is hard to see how Cox can win,” said Michael Hanmer, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, which co-sponsored the poll.

Detailed crosstabs of poll findings

The poll of 810 Maryland registered voters, conducted by telephone Sept. 22-27, with 79 percent reached on cellphone, finds 60 percent say they would vote for Moore, with 28 percent supporting Cox and 9 percent undecided. The poll’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The huge advantage for Moore mirrors Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Maryland, when Trump lost by 33 percentage points, one of the largest statewide spreads in the country.

But it marks a departure from Maryland’s typical gubernatorial contests. While the state swings deeply Democratic in national elections, midterm elections are generally hotly contested, and voters have elected GOP governors in three of the past five cycles.

Cox, a backbench state lawmaker inspired by pandemic shutdowns to run for governor, has neither shored up his own party nor assembled the cross-party coalition of Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats that gave two terms to outgoing governor Larry Hogan (R).

Moore leads in the Post-UMD poll across most regions of the state. His support peaks in the populous Democratic stronghold of Prince George’s County, at 78 percent, with 68 percent support in Montgomery County and 60 percent among voters in Baltimore and other parts of central Maryland. Cox and Moore are about even in the rest of the state (45 percent for Cox to 43 percent for Moore), but Cox leads by 15 points in the more rural areas of Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

Voters have markedly more positive perceptions of Moore than Cox. About 3 in 10 voters have no opinion of either candidate, but 51 percent express a favorable opinion of Moore, nearly double the 28 percent who have a favorable opinion of Cox. Roughly 4 in 10 have an unfavorable impression of Cox; less than 2 in 10 dislike Moore.

The poll finds a large gender gap in support for the candidates, with women supporting Moore by more than 3 to 1 (68 percent to 20 percent) and men backing Moore by 14 points (50 percent to 36 percent).

Walter Oliva Martinez, 30, sees Moore as a politician who understands the needs of marginalized communities.

“There are people in power who don’t care about poor people, those who need help,” said Martinez, a registered Democrat and small business owner from Baltimore County. “There are some [politicians] who run because they want to make money. But then there are those who become [politicians] because they want to do something, they care about the rights of humans.”

Martinez said Moore, who hails from Baltimore and could become the state’s first Black governor, knows the economic struggle of many African Americans. Moore has made reducing income inequality a chief promise and has campaigned on “leaving no one behind.”

“He is coming from an African American family and knows how hard life can be. … The same [goes] for the Hispanic community,” said Martinez, who grew up in foster care. “We need someone who knows the community and will help.”

Forest Cox, 55, a registered independent, said he was drawn to the Republican nominee’s defense of the Constitution and his antiabortion position.

A truck driver from Baltimore County with no relation to the candidate, Cox said that while Trump’s endorsement of Dan Cox caused him to take a deeper look at the freshman legislator’s campaign, it was Cox’s positions that won his vote. “I’m not a sheep. Just because Trump supports him doesn’t mean I am,” he said.

The poll finds 58 percent view Cox’s ideas and policies as similar to the former president’s, 15 percent say he is different and 27 percent have no opinion.

Economy is leading concern

Cox’s support is relatively strong among voters who rank the economy as their top issue, and voters are more focused on it than any other issue.

The economy was the most important issue for 24 percent of registered voters in the Post-UMD poll, and half of those voters say they would vote for Cox, compared with 39 percent who support Moore. With inflation at a 40-year high, the stock market tumbling and a potential recession looming, political experts see the economy as an issue with potential to boost Cox’s showing in November.

“The windows [of opportunity] are really just on the economy and taxes and some sort of catastrophic mistake from Wes Moore,” Hanmer said of Cox’s chances.

Daniel Polyasko, 39 and a registered independent from St. Mary’s County, said he’s worried about gas prices, the cost of groceries and rising interest rates and doesn’t think Democratic leaders are as fiscally responsible as Republicans.

“Just everything in general is really going up and it’s kind of scary,” he said. Polyasko plans to vote for Cox, who also shares his disapproval of teaching students about gender identity and structural racism.

But the poll shows a vast majority of voters who are concerned about other issues intend to pick Moore on Election Day.

Democracy on the ballot

One in 5 voters are most concerned about threats to democracy — voters’ second-most important issue, after the economy — and 82 percent of those voters say they would vote for Moore. Cox has called the 2020 election “stolen” and has yet to commit to accepting the results of the November contest.

“He’s way out there,” John Jackson, 61, said of the Republican nominee. Jackson, a Democrat from Charles County, said that since the 2016 election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, his No. 1 issue has become the preservation of democracy, which he believes Cox would threaten if elected governor.

“He is endorsed by Trump, believes in QAnon conspiracies and is an election denier,” Jackson said. “That’s the kind of person we do not want in the State House.” Cox has attended an event with QAnon speakers but has said he is not a conspiracy theorist.

Jackson said his vote for Moore is more of a vote against Cox. “They are both political neophytes,” he said. “But in Moore’s case, a) I can support an African American and b) I’m going with someone who is going to be on the left of election deniers.”

This year, voters are more animated about the possibility of electing the state’s first Black governor than eight years ago, when then-Lt. Gov Anthony G. Brown, who is Black, was on the ticket. Forty-four percent say it is somewhat or very important for Moore to pass that milestone, compared with 33 percent in 2014 for Brown.

Voters’ other top concerns when selecting a nominee are crime and public education, each motivating 14 percent, with abortion at 11 percent and taxes at 8 percent.

Majority backs abortion rights

Victoria Hite, 21, is a self-described “pro-gun, pro-police” registered Republican who says she plans to vote for Moore because, like her, he supports abortion rights.

She worries that Cox, if elected, would limit reproductive rights in Maryland and create barriers to abortion access for women who may come from other states. Hite, a full-time student, said the former president’s endorsement of Cox did not carry any weight in swaying her to consider Cox.

“Overall Trump’s performance was lacking, in my opinion,” she said. “If they are not for women and our right to choose, I would have a hard time going with them.”

Cox introduced 14 bills to limit funding or roll back access to abortion over the past four years and describes himself as “100 percent” against abortion. Moore supports putting abortion rights into the Maryland Constitution, a position that the poll showed aligns with a majority of voters.

Seventy-eight percent of voters support such a state constitutional amendment, with 16 percent opposed.

By a somewhat smaller margin, voters also roundly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ruled there is not a constitutional right to abortion. Sixty-seven percent oppose the ruling, and 29 support it.

Hogan calls GOP gubernatorial nominee mentally unstable

Hogan posts high approval ratings

Hogan is poised to leave office in January with the highest approval ratings of any governor in the two decades The Post has polled voters.

Seventy-three percent of registered voters approve of the job he is doing, with 36 percent “strongly approving” of his tenure. His approval rating is high among all political affiliations, including 77 percent among independents and 70 percent among Democrats.

Hogan gets approval from 74 percent of registered Republicans, but his fellow partisans do not prefer him over Trump in a potential presidential matchup. In such a hypothetical race for the White House — Hogan is weighing a 2024 bid — 59 percent of Republicans say they would vote for Trump, compared with 35 percent for Hogan.

One of the governor’s signature transportation projects got net favorable views from voters: 50 percent support his plan to add tolled express lanes to Interstate 270 and the Beltway in Maryland, with 42 percent opposed. The project received about the same support now as it did in 2019.

Cox seen as ideological, Moore as center-left

Hogan was just the second Republican in state history to win a second term, and voters largely viewed him as a center-right figure, polling showed.

Despite Democrats’ greater than 2-to-1 advantage in party registration, Maryland voters most commonly identify their views on politics as moderate, at 44 percent, with 31 percent identifying as liberal and 23 percent as conservative.

Voters also view Cox as more ideological than Moore. Fifty-five percent of voters say Cox is conservative, with 36 percent saying Cox is very conservative. Moore is viewed as more of a centrist: 43 percent of voters consider Moore as liberal, 25 percent middle-of-the-road.

Moore’s 32-point advantage over Cox in the Post-UMD poll is larger than his 22-point advantage in a Sept. 8-12 poll by Goucher College.

The surveys were both largely administered by live interviewers on cellphones and landlines, but the Post-UMD poll was conducted two weeks later, and its methodology differed somewhat from that of the Goucher poll. Comparing the findings, the Post-UMD poll finds greater support for Moore than the Goucher poll among registered Republicans (22 percent in the Post-UMD poll vs. 6 percent in Goucher), White voters (53 percent vs. 42 percent), as well as women and voters without college degrees.