About 4 in 10 Anne Arundel County residents approve of the job County Executive Steuart Pittman and the County Council are doing, according to a new Capital poll.
The poll, conducted in conjunction with a statewide Baltimore Sun Media and University of Baltimore survey, showed the incumbent Democrat with a 41% approval rating. The majority Democratic County Council received a 42% approval rating.
Thursday was the first of eight days of early voting at nine locations in the county that ends Nov. 3. Pittman is running against Republican County Council member Jessica Haire. Poll results released Wednesday showed Pittman with an 8-percentage-point lead over Haire, the first-term legislator from Edgewater, 48% to 40%. The survey showed 8% undecided and 4% who preferred not to say who they supported.
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The survey of 439 likely Anne Arundel County voters was conducted by telephone and online from Oct. 20 to 25. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
“Both the council and the county executive are doing pretty well with the voters,” said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, an Annapolis-based polling firm that conducted the survey. “Local people in the 40s are doing pretty well. There are many cases where a local elected leader is unknown to half the public and so they can’t get their approval rating anywhere close to 50%.”
About 59% of Democrats and 23% of Republicans approve of the work Pittman is doing as county executive, while 12% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans disapprove. A quarter of respondents said they felt neutral or weren’t sure about their feelings toward Pittman. Among third-party or unaffiliated voters, views of his job performance were more evenly split with 35% approving and 31% disapproving.
The approval breakdown is similar for the County Council with 54% of Democrats and 29% of Republicans approving of the council, which is made up of four Democrats and three Republicans, including Haire. About 20% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans disapprove.
The poll results align with one conducted by Anne Arundel Community College’s Center for the Study of Local Issues released Oct. 7 that showed Pittman with a 42% approval rating. That is down from a survey conducted by the college this spring that found 47% of respondents support his job performance. The County Council received a 46% approval rating from the college poll three weeks ago.
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Raabe attributes the gap in Republican support to the fact that the seven-member council includes three Republicans while the county executive is only one person, a Democrat.
“There are probably some voters that are thinking about their own member of the council when they give that approval rating,” Raabe said. “Some of those voters would be rating their own member as opposed to the council as a whole.”
One of the voters who approved of both Pittman and the County Council is 36-year-old Mischa Pierce from Odenton who considers himself an independent but is registered as a Democrat to vote in primaries.
“It seems like under [Pittman’s] tenure some of the public services around here have improved, like some of the infrastructure like the roads,” Pierce said. The development in this area has been worth the increase in taxes since 2018, he added, saying: “A lot of stuff has gone derelict, untouched since the 2000s, early 2010s.”
Another Democrat, 55-year-old Michael Benelli from Millersville, said he thought Pittman handled the COVID-19 pandemic well and prevented the virus from getting too out of hand in the county. He said Pittman and the council have been advocates for people with disabilities like him.
“We need services in the community,” Benelli said. “I think they’re able to listen to us and are advocates. ... It’s not like we want something else, just access.”
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He said Pittman and the council have helped ensure people with disabilities have access to fair, affordable housing.
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For some voters like 69-year-old Mayo resident Thomas Hall, a Republican, Pittman’s handling of the pandemic and unwillingness to work with the County Council on some pandemic-related issues led him to disapprove of the county executive’s performance, though he didn’t take issue with other aspects of his work. In fact, Hall liked the fresh take Pittman, who does not come from a political background, had on local issues.
“I didn’t really like the way Pittman handled the [pandemic] with the shutdowns and he overruled the County Council and went by his health officer,” Hall said. “I mean hindsight is 20/20, but he really hurt a lot of restaurants and other businesses and I think he went a little bit too far, but again it was an unusual situation.”
Other Republicans didn’t approve of either the county executive or the council because they thought they spent taxpayer money too freely.
John Morone, a 71-year-old Republican voter from Crofton who’s only voted for one Democrat in his life — a write-in vote for U.S. Sen. Henry Jackson for president in 1972 — said he strongly disapproves of both the County Council and the county executive. He maintained that neither is careful enough with taxpayers’ money.
“I think I’d like to see them be a little more thrifty with our money, spend it a little more wisely, actually think about the fact that it’s real taxpayer money and it’s not just some unlimited pile of cash to be thrown at anything willy-nilly,” Morone said. “You see so many projects done around here that are completely unnecessary. We need a department of, ‘do we really need that.’ Nobody ever seems to ask that question.”
The Capital poll surveyed 191 Democrats, 143 Republicans and 105 Independents and was weighted to accurately reflect the breakdown of Republicans, Democrats and third-party voters in the county. For comparison, there were 410,824 registered voters in Anne Arundel County as of Sept. 30. Of those, 175,194 are Democrats, 130,804 are Republicans, 2,301 Libertarians, 650 are Green Party members, 426 are registered with the Working Class Party and 98,404 are unaffiliated.
This poll was supported in part by funds awarded to The Capital in 2019 after the news organization was recognized with a special Pulitzer Prize citation. This award honored The Capital staff for its “courageous response to the largest killing of journalists in U.S. history in their newsroom” after the 2018 attack in its offices that took the lives of five colleagues.