Tuesday update: This story has been updated with results from a third poll released Tuesday by Gonzales Research and Media Services.
After a three-month polling drought, three new surveys offer an increasingly clear read on where voters stand in the final stretch before Maryland’s June 26 Democratic gubernatorial primary, as well as some clues for what will matter most in determining a winner.
Here are six takeaways from a Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll released Sunday and a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll published June 5, and additional findings from a Gonzales Research and Media Services poll published Tuesday:
1. Jealous and Baker are the top contenders, but neither has a clear lead.
Just two Democrats in each poll reached double-digit support: Former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.
The Sun-UB poll found the two candidates tied at 16 percent apiece among likely Democratic primary voters, while the Post-U-Md.survey found Jealous at 21 percent and Baker at 16 percent among likely voters.
The results are more similar than they might appear. Jealous’s five-percentage-point edge among likely voters in the Post-U-Md. poll was not statistically significant. The Sun-UB result is also similar to The Post-U-Md.’s results among the broader pool of registered Democrats, in which Jealous and Baker were separated by just two points (16 percent and 14 percent), respectively.
*NEW: The Gonzalez Research poll conducted June 4-10 also found a very tight race, with Baker at 25 percent and Jealous at 23 percent among likely Democratic voters, a statistically insignificant gap.
2. Five other candidates stand in single digits.
Both polls show the five other major Democratic candidates with single-digit support. The Sun-UB poll found 5 percent of likely voters supporting Valerie Ervin, who is running in place of Kevin Kamenetz following his sudden death in May. The Post-U-Md. poll also found Ervin numerically in third place with 8 percent support. Thismarks a weaker position than Kamenetz held in polls earlier this year in which he rivaled Jealous.
The Sun-UB poll found state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (Montgomery), Baltimore lawyer James L. Shea and former Michelle Obama aide Krishanti Vignarajah all garnering 4 percent support. Technology entrepreneur and former Obama administration aide Alec Ross drew 1 percent support among likely primary voters. A 44 percent plurality of likely voters were undecided. In the Post-U-Md. poll, Madaleno received 6 percent support, Shea and Vignarajah received 4 percent each, and Ross received 2 percent.
* From Gonzales: Madaleno garners 9 percent, and 7 percent choose “Kevin Kamenetz and Valerie Ervin” (the poll used the names that will appear on the ballot even though Ervin replaced her running mate at the top of the ticket after his unexpected death in May). The poll found 6 percent supported Shea, 5 percent supported Vignarajah and 2 percent backing Ross.
3. The D.C. suburbs and Baltimore are in a tug-of-war.
Both of the new surveys point to a sharp regional divide in support, with Baker strongest in suburban Washington, where he holds office, and Jealous faring best in and around Baltimore, where the NAACP — which he led for five years — is headquartered.
The Post-U-Md. poll found Baker leading Jealous by 32 percent to 12 percent in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County combined, while Jealous led Baker 35 percent to 4 percent in the Baltimore area. The Sun reported its poll showed Baker winning support from roughly a quarter of voters in the Washington suburbs while Jealous won a similar share of support in the Baltimore area.
4. Many Democratic voters have yet to focus on the race.
One of the most striking findings from the Sun-UB poll is that a 57 percent majority of Democrats likely to vote in the primary have given “only a little” thought to who they will back, compared with 37 percent who said they had thought “quite a lot” about it. Even among voters who preferred one of the candidates, a 53 percent majority said they could change their mind before June 26.
The two results suggest that Democratic voters have not been closely following the race for their party’s nomination, and that the candidates have failed to harness voter attention so far.
** The Gonzalez poll found antipathy toward President Trump was on many Democrats’ minds, with 46 percent of likely voters choosing “removing Donald Trump from office” as the most important of five issues in determining their vote. Education ranked a distant second at 26 percent, followed by the economy at 10 percent, public safety at 8 percent and opioids at 3 percent.
5. The final fortnight will be critical.
The share of undecided Democratic voters is roughly twice as large as the support for any individual candidate, indicating many voters are waiting until the final days of the campaign to decide who to support, or perhaps whether to vote at all.
The Sun-UB poll found 44 percent of likely Democratic primary voters are undecided, slightly higher than 39 percent in the Post-U-Md. poll. The share of undecideds is far higher than in 2014, when a June 8 Post-U-Md. poll found 16 percent of likely Democratic voters had no opinion how they would vote in the June 24 primary or said they supported “none” of the candidates.
The Gonzales survey, conducted over the past week, found a much smaller percent of likely voters undecided, 22 percent, down from 33 percent in the firm’s January poll. The share of undecided voters can vary in polls conducted by different groups, due to varying definitions of likely voters and methods of gauging who candidate are leaning toward.
The large number of undecided voters in the Post-U.-Md. and Sun-UB polls could portend low turnout, which could benefit campaigns that have sufficient funds and organization to effectively motivate their supporters to get to the polls. It also raises the stakes for last-minute TV and radio ads to sway support among Democrats who vote consistently but have not committed to supporting a candidate.
6. Whoever wins will face a big challenge in Republican Larry Hogan.
The Sun-UB poll found 57 percent of Democratic voters saying they are more likely to support the party’s nominee in the general election, while 24 percent said they are more likely to support Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s reelection. Another 18 percent said they are unsure how they would vote.
The finding is similar to a different finding from the Post-U-Md. poll’s head-to-head general election matchups, which foundmore than one-quarter of Democrats saying they would prefer Hogan over possible Democratic challengers. Hogan led various Democrats among registered voters overall by 10 to 24 points.
The Gonzales poll found between 30 percent and 33 percent of registered Democrats supporting Hogan in head-to-head matchups against Baker, Jealous and Madaleno. Among registered voters overall, Hogan led Baker by 11 points, Madaleno by 14 points and Jealous by 18 points.
The Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll was conducted by OpinionWorks May 29-June 6 among a sample of 500 likely voters in Maryland’s Democratic primary, with live interviewers calling a list of registered Democratic voters on landline and cellphones. The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll was conducted May 29-June 3 among a sample of 1,015 Maryland adults reached by professional interviewers on landline and cellphones by calling a combination of Random Digit Dialing and a voter registration list. The subsample of 532 likely Democratic primary voters carried a six-point error margin.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.