The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marylanders are more liberal than Gov. Hogan. But they like him anyway.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Marylanders broadly approve of Gov. Larry Hogan even though the Republican is at odds with most voters on signature progressive proposals such as raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana and offering free state college tuition, according to a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

Residents appear willing to overlook such policy differences with the governor, giving him positive marks for bread-and-butter issues including the economy, taxes and transportation.

But Hogan’s ratings for handling education have sagged to their weakest point in his term, according to the poll, potentially making him vulnerable to criticism from Democratic gubernatorial candidates who urge more spending on public schools and expanded pre-K programs.

As Hogan prepares to run for reelection in November, the poll results highlight his success in retaining widespread support in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1.

Seventy-one percent approve of Hogan’s overall job performance, tying his previous record and nine points higher than for any other Maryland governor since the late 1990s. He is unopposed in the June 26 primary and leads potential Democratic challengers by margins of between 10 and 24 percentage points.

“The support for Hogan really suggests that people are paying attention to what’s happening on the ground and not just reverting to their partisan identification, at least at this point,” said Michael J. Hanmer, research director of the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship, which conducted the poll with The Post.

Read full poll results | How the poll was conducted

The survey also finds that Hogan’s efforts to keep his distance from President Trump have not hurt his standing with his Republican base. In fact, the governor’s 97 percent approval rating among Maryland GOP voters far exceeds Trump’s 75 percent mark for that group.

Hogan’s strongest area of overall support is his handling of the economy, which Marylanders approve by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. The state gained more than 100,000 non-farm jobs during his first three years in office, aided by a robust national economy.

Slight majorities of residents also approve of Hogan’s performance on taxes and transportation. He has opposed tax increases — his signature issue — and came around to support construction of the light-rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs after opposing the project in his 2014 campaign. He and the Democratic-majority state legislature also brokered an agreement to allocate $167 million in additional funds each year to improve the Metro rail and bus system, which the poll finds 71 percent of registered voters support.

By contrast, Marylanders are roughly split on Hogan’s handling of education, with 43 percent approving and 40 percent disapproving. Last year, residents rated Hogan positively on education by a 17-point margin, 50 percent to 33 percent.

Val Strickroth, a 54-year-old Democrat from Ellicott City, said Hogan has made progress on education but “needs to keep improving — especially in Baltimore City.” Strickroth, a laboratory manager, said she is worried about overcrowding, aging schools and underpaid teachers. If Hogan does not lay out a clear plan for the state’s public education system ahead of the general election in November, then he could risk losing her vote, she said.

Post-U. Md. poll: Jealous, Baker lead in Democratic race overshadowed by Hogan.

Owings Mills resident Jody Grodnitzky, 53, a Democrat, said he will probably support Hogan in November because he lowered tolls, cut fees and generally helped steer Maryland’s economy “in the right direction.”

But Grodnitzky added that he sees Hogan’s education policies — especially the condition of Baltimore’s schools — as a potential weakness.

“It’s something he could do better with,” said Grodnitzky, a mental-health therapist, while cautioning that he didn’t think “throwing more money at it is the answer.”

Hogan’s popularity has not altered Maryland’s strong liberal leanings, and the poll suggests that a Democratic challenger could score points on some issues where the governor is to the right of a majority of residents.

By 64 percent to 31 percent, Maryland registered voters support raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the $10.10 hourly wage that will be enacted in July.

Most of the Democrats vying for the nomination to challenge Hogan support a $15 minimum wage. The governor has said he is willing to discuss an increase but warned against any move that would harm business or hurt job growth.

Gaithersburg resident Joe Palka, 66, said he is a “huge Democrat” who is “all in” for a $15 minimum wage, but he still expects to vote for Hogan in November.

The governor “looks like he knows his way around a barroom. . . . He has not been caustic or socially conservative,” said Palka, a local actor and newscaster. “We have to appreciate good Republicans because there are some crappy ones in there now.”

Marylanders also support legalizing the sale and taxation of marijuana for personal use, by 52 percent to 41 percent. Most Democratic candidates support legalization, whereas Hogan supports medical marijuana but has not called for full legalization.

Nearly 6 in 10 Maryland voters support offering free tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities, even though it will come at much higher cost to the state, the Post-U-Md. poll finds.

Hogan, who generally favors spending restraint, signed a bill this spring to provide free community college to low- and middle-
income state residents, which was supported by nearly 8 in 10 voters in the poll. But Hogan has not embraced broader free-tuition proposals put forward by Democrat Ben Jealous and other candidates.

Jennifer Posada, 21, of Damascus, said she plans to support Hogan even though she “absolutely” thinks college should be free for all Maryland residents and thinks legalizing and taxing marijuana is a “no-brainer.”

She thinks Hogan has generally done a good job as governor and has drawn attention to the opioid epidemic. She added that information about the incumbent seems to be “everywhere,” but she has not heard much about his potential Democratic challengers.

Maryland Republicans overwhelmingly support both Trump and Hogan, even though the governor said publicly that he did not vote for the president and has emphatically criticized some of his policies and actions.

“It is a very Democratic state, [so] I’m not surprised” about Hogan’s stance, said Paul James, 62, a Republican retiree in Frederick who strongly backs the president. “I’m basically judging Hogan on what he’s done for Maryland, not on what his opinions are of Donald Trump.”

Besides, James said, any Democrat “who ran against Hogan would be far worse on Donald Trump than he is.”

The poll was conducted May 29 through June 3 among a random sample of 1,015 Maryland adults reached on landline and cellular phones, including 968 registered voters. The margin of sampling error for both overall results and registered voters is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.