Gov. Larry Hogan is currently dominating all of his prospective Democratic rivals by double digits as voters say the first-term Republican has effectively distanced himself from President Donald J. Trump, according to a Goucher Poll released Tuesday.
With a 69 percent job-approval rating, Hogan remains widely popular among Maryland voters, who mostly identify him as a moderate, the poll shows.
The poll of 449 likely Maryland voters found that Hogan would easily defeat any of the seven major Democratic contenders seeking to challenge him. The winner of the June 26 Democratic primary election will face Hogan in November.
While Hogan has the backing of a majority of white voters against any of those challengers, his overall support dips below 50 percent due to relatively weak support among African-Americans and other minority voters. Black voters are less likely than whites to identify Hogan as a "moderate" or to believe the economy has improved during the last four years.
"It's something that Hogan's people will have to address," said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.
At the same time, Hogan's support among African-American voters could pose a problem for Democrats, Kromer said. The governor is attracting the backing of three out of 10 black voters over most of the major Democrats.
"It's clear that he has made some inroads in the African-American community, which is not like other Republicans," Kromer said.
The strongest Democrats in the matchups against Hogan were the two African-American candidates. When poll respondents were asked to choose between a Democratic candidate or Hogan, both Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and former NAACP President Ben Jealous got the support of 31 percent. Hogan, however, got 44 percent against both.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., author Alec Ross, lawyer Jim Shea and former Michelle Obama aide Krish Vignarajah all garnered between 25 and 30 percent of voters against Hogan.
But the number of undecided voters remains high, at 22 percent or greater in each of the matchups.
In each matchup, Hogan's support came primarily from Republicans (more than 80 percent) and from independent voters (more than 40 percent), but he also picked up significant support from Democrats (more than 20 percent).
The Democratic candidates, meanwhile, each got almost all of their support from Democrats, drawing just single-digit crossover support from Republicans. Democrats often picked up support from respondents who are nonwhite, who live in the Washington suburbs or are younger than 35.
Hogan's lead as a Republican in a solidly Democratic state reflects strong approval for his job performance and his ability to portray himself as a moderate while also holding the support of his party.
"It seems Republicans like the governor and they plan on voting for him," Kromer said. She said even Republicans who now say they are undecided are likely to support Hogan once they see whom the Democrats choose in the June 26 primary.
The poll found that 69 percent of respondents approve of Hogan's performance — a gain of 8 percentage points from a February Goucher survey. Twice as many see him as a moderate rather than as a conservative — 51 to 26 percent.
In a year when the GOP faces election perils because of Trump's unpopularity, Hogan appears to be thwarting Democratic efforts to tie the two together. Only 27 percent of respondents said Hogan has done too little to separate himself from Trump, compared with 47 percent who say he's put about the right amount of distance between himself and the Republican president.
That could be critical in a state where the poll shows seven in 10 voters disapprove of Trump's performance. Voters split roughly evenly on whether their views of Trump will affect their votes this year. But only one-quarter say it will have a lot of influence on how they will vote. That's down by 20 points since February 2017, the month after Trump was inaugurated.
The poll has a nugget of good news for Democrats. It asked whether government should do more to solve people's problems, a core tenet of the Democratic Party, or whether government is doing too many things, a view more in line with the GOP. By a 2-1 margin Marylanders supported the government doing more.
"That is a Democratic idea," Kromer said. "That suggests to me that they have a pretty strong Democratic lean."