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Most voters expect terror attacks


Two out of three Maryland voters believe the United States is likely to be the target of another terrorist attack in the next few months, but most expressed satisfaction with steps taken by their state government to protect them, a new poll for The Sun suggests. A growing disapproval of President Bush, however, has resulted in the lowest approval rating for Bush in his presidency. And a majority believes the president misled the country about the situation in Iraq before the war.

About 40 percent of Maryland voters believe the president is winning the war on terrorism, up 5 percentage points from a year ago.

But the president's struggle to win over Marylanders appears, in part, to be a result of a widening gap along party lines over some of his policies. Maryland is overwhelmingly Democratic, almost 2-to-1 over Republicans.

"Partisan feelings have come to the surface like we haven't seen in a decade or so," said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, which conducted the poll for the newspaper and SunSpot.net. "George Bush is ... a very polarizing president."

The president may be facing an uphill battle in Maryland in the coming election. Voters in the survey favored Democratic candidate Howard Dean over Bush 47 percent to 43 percent.

The Maryland Poll, a telephone survey of 1,200 randomly selected likely voters, was conducted Jan. 2 to 5 and has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

While most voters expressed faith in Maryland's ability to protect them from terrorism, African-Americans and residents of Greater Washington were slightly more inclined than others to believe that there is more the state needs to do.

Yvonne Smith, an African-American resident of Prince George's County, said she believes a terrorist attack is "very likely" in the next few months because the president has failed to track down Osama bin Laden, who is accused of organizing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Smith, 64, a Washington dental hygienist who lives in Mitchellville, said she believes Bush's efforts in Iraq have not helped find bin Laden, so she questions why the nation took military action there at all.

"I never understood why we really had to go over there, and now we have to rebuild [Iraq] all over again," Smith said. "I just felt I was misled.

"And it's still going on. We didn't get bin Laden, so I just feel that it could be another attack."

Smith said the president's handling of terrorism and Iraq has persuaded her to vote for someone else for president.

More than half (51 percent) of the voters surveyed in the poll said they would choose someone other than Bush for president.

Whites favor Bush

The concerns about Bush in Maryland were split racially and regionally.

Whites would re-elect Bush 51 percent to 43 percent, while African-Americans overwhelmingly want someone else: 79 percent to 8 percent.

Greater Baltimore is evenly split, while Greater Washington is 2-to-1 against the president's re-election.

Haller said a key political move for Bush in Maryland is to latch onto Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s popularity in the state as a way to improve his political standing.

After his first year in office, Ehrlich's approval ratings remain strong at 56 percent. Bush's have worsened. The number of Marylanders who disapprove of Bush rose 10 percentage points over last year to 45 percent. His approval ratings dropped seven points to 48 percent.

Haller said he believes Ehrlich could help keep Marylanders, and particularly Republicans, behind Bush.

"Republicans are totally lock-step behind Ehrlich right now," Haller said. "His strong supporters across the state will be with him until the bitter end."

The survey was done just days before the release of a report last week by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan Washington research center, that concluded Iraq's weapons programs represented a long-term threat that should not have been ignored. But the report added that the programs did not "pose an immediate threat to the United States, to the region or to global security."

Misled about Iraq

Even before that assessment, a majority of Marylanders (53 percent) said they believe Bush misled the country about the situation in Iraq, including more than 20 percent of Republican voters.

"It's a staggering statement," Haller said. "A lot of it has to do with education. Maryland voters tend to be more educated than the nation as a whole. The more education, the more opposition to Iraq."

Registered Republican Douglas Hole of Annapolis said he also believes the country was misled but doesn't think President Bush did so intentionally. Hole believes a terrorist attack is imminent because terrorists are "really smart and we underestimate them."

The retired Air Force colonel said the country won't begin to win the terrorism war until it makes a sustained effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has bred terrorists.

"What do they have to look forward to? Nothing but more of the same, so what do they have to lose?" said Hole, 62, who teaches Junior ROTC at Laurel High School.

Dorothy Seim of Towson also believes it is "somewhat likely" that there will be another terrorist attack on the United States in the next few months. "Why not?" she asks.

The retired editor of technical manuals said she is not sure what can be done to win the war on terrorism, which she believes - as does 46 percent of respondents - the country is not winning.

"I don't know how to handle it because I think the whole culture and the whole mentality [of terrorism] is so much different than anything we've had to cope with before," said Seim, 75, a Democrat. "I don't have any answers."

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