In the weeks following Maryland’s 2018 gubernatorial election, many commentators have sought to explain voters’ support for Republican Governor Larry Hogan in a blue state. His convincing re-election win has been attributed to his lasting popularity, his expertly-run and well-funded campaign, and the political missteps of challenger Ben Jealous, among other factors.
But in an electoral environment in which Republicans and Democrats hold each other in deep disregard, these election results deserve a closer look. How exactly did Larry Hogan win re-election in a state dominated by registered Democrats?
To answer this question, students from the political science department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County launched the inaugural UMBC Retriever Exit Poll. On Election Day, our team of 25 undergraduate student researchers fanned out across Baltimore County, visiting a total of eight polling sites. We traveled from Dundalk to Woodlawn, all in search of voters who would be willing to answer a nonpartisan, scientific survey.
Our efforts resulted in a sample of 568 Baltimore County voters. We asked respondents about their votes for governor, county executive and senator, alongside a wide variety of questions tapping public opinion and demographic information.
Our poll showed that Governor Hogan’s support came from three groups. Nearly all of the Republicans in the sample voted for Mr. Hogan, alongside a majority of the political independents. But Mr. Hogan also won nearly 30 percent of the Democrats in our sample. In fact, without these Democratic voters, Mr. Hogan would have lost to Jealous among our respondents by a wide margin.
So who were these Baltimore County Democrats who broke across party lines to support the Republican incumbent? Statistical results from the exit poll show that these “Hogan Democrats” differed from other Baltimore County Democrats in several important respects. While gender and age had virtually no impact in determining whether a given Democrat would cross the aisle to support Mr. Hogan, wealthier, more ideologically moderate Democrats were far more likely than others to make the switch.
While perhaps unsurprising, given what we know about theories of racial and descriptive representation, white Democrats were also more likely to vote for Mr. Hogan than Democrats of other ethnic and racial identities. Being non-white significantly increased Democrats’ support for Ben Jealous by around 21 percent, after controlling for other relevant factors.
These results speak to the idea that even though party identification is an incredibly powerful force in American politics, parties are not homogeneous. Within parties, different groups can be more or less effectively persuaded by campaigns and candidates. In this case, wealthy, moderate, largely white Baltimore County Democrats were more eager than others to support the incumbent governor.
But even if these demographic comparisons might seem intuitive to savvy readers, the issue positions of “Hogan Democrats” were more surprising. Democratic Hogan supporters were no more or less concerned about Maryland tax rates than Democrats who voted for Ben Jealous. In addition, these Hogan supporters were no more or less conservative than other Democrats on immigration. But Mr. Hogan’s Democratic supporters in Baltimore County were far more pro-2nd Amendment and far more concerned about crime in Maryland than other Democrats.
All these results should be taken with a grain of salt, given that exit polling is a very blunt tool for studying the electorate. But the Retriever Exit Poll has given us important insights into the political process in contemporary Maryland. In a nation where intense partisan antipathy and straight-ticket voting is widespread, this effort shows that the issue positions and campaign strategies of Maryland’s politicians still matter in the contest for our state’s highest office.
Ian G. Anson is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at UMBC (firstname.lastname@example.org, www.iananson.com). The 2018 Retriever Exit Poll was supported by a generous grant from UMBC’s BreakingGround Initiative. The members of the 2018 Retriever Exit Polling Team are: Nicole Ajongbah, Akua Amponsah, Sylvia Anokam, Dom Barcikowski, Kai Craig, Belen Dadicho, Sam Deschenaux, Brian Donegan, Ryan Gordon, Airiel Herrera, Kaitlyn Kauffman, Sandy Lee, Amelia Manasterli, Kevin Mohabir, Cameron O’Brien, Ugochi Obiozor, Allen Orpiano, John Osborne, Zane Poffenberger, Abed Rahman, Lizzie Ryan, Mathias Smith, Dave Tandy, Stacey Wells and Kevin Zelaya.