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Three interesting findings from our Maryland poll

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The new Maryland statewide poll from the Washington Post and University of Maryland highlights the warm welcome Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has received as he begins his new job, but also points to the numerous policy challenges he faces as he tries to implement his agenda.

The poll offers a wealth of data on what Marylanders think of Hogan and his agenda, including support for some cost-saving initiatives and strong opposition to his proposal to slow the growth of education spending.

Here are three other key findings, on the Purple Line, vaccine requirements and the direction that residents say their state should take.

Purple Line narrowly supported

By a tepid 49 to 43 percent margin, more Marylanders support going forward with construction on the $2.45 billion Purple Line light rail project that would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. The fate of the project could rest with Hogan, who has questioned whether it should be shelved in order to trim the budget and prioritize roads and infrastructure around the rest of the state.

While neighborhood property complaints have been the biggest obstacles to the line so far, the clearest driver of public support and opposition is utilitarian — whether people actually expect to ride it. Among those who see themselves riding the line frequently or “sometimes,” 83 percent support the project. Even among those who expect to ride “rarely,” 56 percent say it should be built. But support plummets to 27 percent among those who say they never expect to ride the line. This group tends to live in more rural parts of the stare, to be more Republican and older.

Opinions about the project break sharply around different regions of the state. Support peaks where people are more likely to have access to the rail line. In Montgomery County 67 percent want it to go forward and nearly 6 in 10 in Prince George’s (59 percent) and Anne Arundel/Howard counties together support the line (58 percent).

Residents of Baltimore — where another proposed light-rail line is awaiting Hogan’s approval — are divided on the project, with 46 percent support and 48 percent opposed. More than half are opposed in the Baltimore suburbs (53 percent) and parts of the state outside of the I-95 corridor (52 percent).

Vaccine requirements for children

High-profile Republicans were criticized recently over suggesting that parents should be able to choose whether to vaccinate children, a debate fueled by a recent outbreak of measles. Maryland has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with 76 percent of all children ages 19 to 35 months receiving the full series of vaccines recommended by the CDC in 2013.

The poll found 84 percent of Marylanders saying parents of young children in the state should be required to vaccinate their children to protect against common diseases such as measles and mumps, an opinion that spans all demographic and political groups around the state. But that high-level support was very malleable when respondents were asked whether there should be exceptions for religious or medical reasons. Fifty-three percent of respondents said parents should be required to vaccinate their young children even if they object to vaccinations for religious or medical reasons.

The fall-off is relatively even across demographic and political groups. But some key groups move from very large majority support for vaccinations to lower than majority support. Republicans and independents move from roughly 8 in 10 saying vaccinations should be required to 48 percent support saying they should be required even when parents have medical or religious exceptions. Democrats fall off too, but not below a majority, with 59 percent still saying vaccines should still be mandatory even if parents have religious or medical objections.

In Maryland, religious beliefs are an accepted reason for a child entering school without receiving vaccines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Certain medical exceptions are permitted in Maryland and all other states throughout the country.

Is Maryland headed in the right direction?  

In Hogan’s first State of the State address to the Maryland General Assembly last week, he said the people of Maryland “… feel that we are way off track, heading in the wrong direction, and that change is desperately needed in Annapolis.”

The change part of that sentence was spot on, with the largely Democratic state voting for a Republican governor for only the third time in the past half century. But Hogan’s impressions of Maryland’s direction don’t reflect overall sentiments around the state. Nearly half, 48 percent, say things in Maryland are going in the right direction and 40 percent say things are off on the wrong track. That is nearly identical to where things stood a year ago, when the right-wrong split was 48-43.

But underneath that apparent stability are some sharp changes in opinion among Democrats and Republicans. A year ago, when Democratic governor Martin O’Malley was in office, 67 percent of Democrats said the state was on the right path but just 15 percent of Republicans said the same. With Hogan in charge, the number of Democrats saying things are going in the right direction has slipped to 56 percent, and Republicans are up to 43 percent.

More importantly for Hogan, Marylanders are upbeat about how he will lead the state. Nearly 6 in 10 are “very” or “somewhat” confident he will lead the state in the right direction. Asked in which ideological direction he should lead the state, 36 percent say he should take Maryland on a more conservative path. Twenty-eight percent, want him to lead the state in a more liberal direction, and 28 percent want him to keep things as they are.

Check out the Post’s full story on the popularity of Hogan’s proposals, and also find interactive results breakdowns by group from the survey and complete question wording, methodology and trends over time.

The Post-Maryland poll was conducted February 5-8 among a random sample of 1,003 adult residents of Maryland reached by live interviewers on both land line and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus four percentage points.