Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is deeply popular nine months after taking office, earning high marks from residents who describe him as a “different kind of Republican” and who have watched him battle cancer, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll has found.
Hogan’s 61 percent approval rating — up from 42 percent in February — extends across partisan and demographic lines in a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2 to 1.
At a time of inceasing polarization in U.S. politics, such broad likability is anomalous, said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College.
While national Republican leaders are increasingly viewed as confrontational and divisive, Eberly said, “Hogan doesn’t appear to be like that. People aren’t seeing him as his party but are seeing him as him.”
The governor is viewed more favorably than either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, and he is presiding over a state that is riding a wave of increased optimism. For the first time since 2007, a majority of residents polled say things in Maryland are headed in the right direction.
“I think he’s doing a great job,” said Dora Parks, 72, of Baltimore. “He’s doing what he said when he was campaigning. So many politicians will say they are going to do this and that, but then they get in office, they do different. Not him.”
The poll brings a wealth of good news for Hogan, a businessman who had never before held elected office, but also points to some challenges ahead. While Hogan has pushed to slow the growth of education spending and lower taxes, the poll finds that 37 percent of residents want the governor and lawmakers to make education a top priority, up 11 points since February. The economy and taxes came in second and third, at 20 percent and 13 percent, respectively. In February, nearly 1 in 5 residents said taxes were a top issue.
Maryland residents continue to show strong support for liberal policies, which could also pose a problem for the Republican governor. For example, residents largely support paid sick leave, right-to-die legislation and shorter prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Strong majorities also back a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants and say Maryland should welcome Syrian refugees who are being resetttled in the United States.
Janice Berry-Chen, a retired federal worker from Upper Marlboro, said she finds little to like in Hogan’s agenda, which focuses heavily on the economy, taxes and the business climate.
“I live paycheck to paycheck,” said Berry-Chen, 70, who voted for Democrat Anthony G. Brown in November. “What is he doing for us who make too much to get assistance?”
From a historical perspective, Hogan’s early popularity is quite similar to the 62 percent approval rating for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) roughly one year into office. Hogan’s approval is 9 points higher than that of his predecessor, Martin O’Malley (D), at the same point in his first term.
Those early approval ratings did not predict future success, however: Ehrlich lost his bid for reelection, while O’Malley easily won his.
But Hogan appears to be building a solid base by focusing on bread-and-butter issues, such as cutting tolls and fees and improving services. He also has gained support by sharing his cancer treatment experience in public and online after his diagnosis in June, and by becoming a visible advocate for other cancer patients.
Fifty-six percent of Marylanders have heard at least something about Hogan’s cancer diagnosis, and his approval ratings are significantly higher among those who are aware of the cancer. Seven in 10 who have heard “a lot” or “some” about his diagnosis approve of him, compared with 58 percent who have heard “a little” and 40 percent who have not heard anything at all.
Roughly three-quarters say it is a good idea for Hogan to remain in office while being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He completed his sixth and final round of chemotherapy this week.
“He’s just proven that’s what everyday Americans have to do,” said Dana Senior, 45, a political independent from Baltimore County who voted for Hogan. “You go to work sick. You have to do what you have to do to make ends meet and survive and pay the bills.”
Lindy Redding, who owns an air-conditioning and heating company in Glen Burnie, said he can sympathize with Hogan and understands his decision to continue working while receiving cancer treatment. That’s because Redding, 81, did the same when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma six years ago.
“I haven’t seen anything he’s done wrong,” Redding said of Hogan, commending the governor for lowering tolls and for his response to the Baltimore riots.
Nearly 6 in 10 approve of Hogan’s handling of the state’s economy, rising above his ratings on any other issue tested in the poll. Views on the economy’s direction are mixed — just over half see it as holding steady, and slightly more say it is getting better than worse, 24 percent to 19 percent. Among those who see improvement in the economy, more than three-quarters say Hogan deserves credit.
The poll finds 47 percent of Maryland residents approve of the way Hogan has dealt with education and 32 percent disapprove — his lowest approval rating on any issue. This year, the governor refused to release $68.1 million in education funding that the General Assembly set aside for Maryland’s most expensive school districts. He fought to give charter operators greater authority in running their schools and pushed to provide a tax credit to businesses that donate to private and public schools.
Perceptions of Hogan’s performance on education varied in different parts of the state. For example, in Prince George’s, which received less state funding than expected, Hogan’s approval rating on education was 29 percent.
In general, Hogan fared better in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties and rural parts of the state, and worse in Baltimore City, where residents by a 2 to 1 margin say the state is headed in the wrong direction.
In Howard and Anne Arundel counties, 72 percent of residents approve of Hogan’s job performance, the poll found, compared with 55 percent in Montgomery County and 43 percent in Prince George’s.
“For Baltimore City, he’s doing a terrible job. For the rest of the state, my family in Baltimore County thinks he’s doing a great job,” said Michael Bowman, 33, who lives in the city and works for the Salvation Army. “They’ll celebrate just the fact he’s taken off a toll on a road that they’ll go over once a year.”
Still, across the state, nearly twice as many Democrats approve of Hogan’s performance as disapprove (54 percent to 28 percent), the poll found, and independents are similarly positive (58 percent approval and 24 percent disapproval). A whopping 82 percent of Republicans approve of Hogan’s performance so far, compared with 8 percent who disapprove.
Even 38 percent of those who voted in November for Brown, the former lieutenant governor, approve of Hogan’s performance, while 41 percent disapprove.
Just over half approve of the way Hogan has handled transportation issues. But people were nearly split on whether the state should focus on building roads or providing more public transit.
The governor gave the green light in the spring to the light-rail Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s, after scaling back state funding for the project. But he killed plans for the light-rail Red Line in Baltimore City, infuriating residents there. He has also dramatically increased spending on roads and bridges.
Redding, the Glen Burnie resident, said he supports Hogan for what he’s done so far — reducing tolls and fees and responding to the Baltimore riots — and for what he believes the governor will ultimately accomplish, including taking steps to help small-business owners like himself.
“He hasn’t had a chance,” said Redding, who is a political independent and voted for Hogan. “But I think he should help the little guy out, business-wise.”
Not all Republicans are entirely happy with Hogan. Daryl Swartwood, 45, who lives in Hagerstown and voted for Hogan, said he hears frustrations from fellow conservatives who want the governor to be more aggressive on loosening Maryland’s restrictive gun laws. But he believes Hogan made the right call to focus on pocketbook issues that shored up his support among Democrats.
“I would like to be able to get a carry permit in this state, too, but first things first,” Swartwood said. “The economy is issue number one.”
Swartwood, who works in contracting for a construction corporation, says he feels “betrayed” by the Republican-controlled Congress because it has not defunded the federal health-care law or cracked down on illegal immigration. He considers Hogan a rare Republican who has done what he promised to do, cutting taxes and trying to attract businesses.
“I don’t know if it’s that I see Hogan being a new or different kind of Republican, or if I see him as what Republicans are supposed to be, and what they used to be,” he said.
The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll was conducted Oct. 8-11 among a random sample of 1,006 adult residents of Maryland, including land-line and cellphone respondents. Full results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Fenit Nirappil and Scott Clement contributed to this report.