An uncertain economic future and the threat of an abortion ban are among the issues motivating Marylanders to vote this election season, a new poll of likely voters for Baltimore Sun Media and the University of Baltimore shows.
Nearly half of surveyed Democrats and Republicans and 40% of unaffiliated voters — 47% of those surveyed in total — said they feel more motivated to vote Nov. 8 than in recent elections.
And the high stakes are causing voters to think twice about how they cast their ballots. Marcella Schuerholz, a 68-year-old Democratic retiree from Harford County, said that in the past, she voted based on policy over party. But she’s become more reluctant to consider a Republican because she considers the party’s policies now too extreme on issues such as abortion.
“I’m gonna vote an all-Democratic ticket because we have to, and it’s kind of sad because I voted for [Republican Gov. Larry] Hogan in the last race,” Schuerholz said. “In the past, you would consider the person. But you almost cannot do that now because of the stakes.”
The additional push to vote comes amid a mixed bag of an election. Voters are deciding who does their bidding, from the state legislature to county councils and school boards. Yet the three statewide races — for governor, attorney general and comptroller — are lopsided, with Democrats clearly ahead in the Sun/UB poll. If they win, Maryland would return to all-Democratic rule at the state level after eight years under Hogan, even as Republicans may regain control of Congress.
“This is a big year in Maryland,” said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, the Annapolis firm that conducted the poll. “The ‘off year’ … is always a big year.”
The statewide survey of 562 Democratic, 247 Republican and 180 unaffiliated likely voters was conducted by phone and online Oct. 20-23. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Double-digit leads at the top
Among the three third-party candidates, 3% of voters surveyed supported Libertarian David Lashar, Green Party candidate Nancy Wallace received 2% and David Harding of Maryland’s Working Class Party received 1%.
In the race for attorney general, Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, who is finishing his first term in Congress and served as lieutenant governor in Democrat Martin O’Malley’s administration, led Republican Michael Peroutka 60% to 28%.
Raabe sees Moore’s pairing with Brown on the ballot as mutually beneficial, noting that Brown “looks strong” and is motivating Black and progressive voters.
“It will help both candidates rise,” Raabe said. Both candidates are Black, and would be the first Black officeholders in those roles.
Similarly, Democrat Brooke Lierman, who has represented South Baltimore in the House of Delegates for two terms, leads Republican County Executive Barry Glassman of Harford County 57% to 29%.
In Maryland, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-1, suggesting neither of the conservative extremists Cox and Peroutka nor the more moderate Glassman have attracted much of the critically needed crossover support.
With so much support leaning toward the Democratic Party this fall, Maryland could become the bluest it’s been since Hogan took office in 2013 with the help of some Democratic voters.
What’s motivating voters
Of the respondents more motivated to vote because of specific issues, the inflation and the cost of living, the economy, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning in June of Roe v. Wade, which had protected the right to an abortion, were of highest priority, the poll showed. Each was cited by 11% of the motivated respondents as a top concern.
On the economic issues, Republicans and unaffiliated voters registered more concern than Democrats by at least a 2-to-1 margin.
“I want to clean house and I want the country to get on a better track than it is right now. Right now, it’s ‘Build Back Broke,’ not ‘Build Back Better,’” said Mary Scott, a 56-year-old Republican administrator from Parkville who plans to vote for Cox.
Build Back Better was the name last year for Democratic President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion plan to restore the U.S. environment and social programs. Congress rejected the full plan, but passed in August legislation that addressed some of its priorities, including investment in curbing carbon emissions, reining in pharmaceutical costs and taxing large companies.
“We’ve got homeless people and veterans and whatnot, and yet were sending out money to everyone else and their brother … but not the people in the United States,” Scott said. “Choose to help your own before you help others.”
Another prominent issue driving Marylanders to cast ballots is questions surrounding abortion access, which became more fraught after the Supreme Court handed down its opinion overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and sending the matter to legislatures to determine state laws regarding the availability of abortion.
During the 2022 legislative session, Democratic state House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County made an unsuccessful attempt to send to voters a proposed state constitutional amendment to protect “reproductive liberty,” including the right to prevent, continue or end pregnancy and generally prohibit the state from intervening in those rights. The House passed the bill, but it stalled in a Senate committee.
Of the 11% of voters surveyed who said access to abortion was what’s driving them to vote, they were 15% of the Democrats polled, 5% of the Republicans polled and 5% of the unaffiliated voters polled.
“I have been on both sides of Roe v. Wade,” said Ann Carey, 55, of Wheaton. Carey, a Democrat who works for the Red Cross, said she had an abortion when she was young and put a child up for adoption when she was 19.
Of the latter, she said: “No 12-year-old, 13-year-old, 14-year-old should have to live with that choice.”
Carey, who now has a daughter who’s 14, shudders at the idea of male politicians interfering. She’s voting for Moore.
“God forbid something were to happen to her where she wouldn’t have access to that,” Carey said.
What the candidates are saying
The concerns of the electorate identified by the poll are reflected in the platforms of Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates from the two major parties.
At several public forums, GOP gubernatorial candidate Cox, a first-term delegate representing portions of Carroll and Frederick counties, has echoed Republican concerns about the rising price of groceries, gasoline and rent due to inflation.
However, he has also harped frequently and recently on steps taken to control the spread of the coronavirus, which voters surveyed indicated was much less of a concern than it had been for them previously.
Meanwhile, Moore, an author and former nonprofit leader, has pledged on the campaign trail to ensure Maryland will be “a safe haven for abortion care.”
Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, said it makes sense that voters overall — and Republicans by wider margins — are responding to pressing economic issues.
Maryland Policy & Politics
“It tends to motivate people to be against a party in power when the economy is perceived to be bad,” Hartley said.
If Republicans turn out because of lagging economic conditions, but Democrats are motivated by abortion issues to go to the polls, the latter may partly offset increased Republican turnout.
“Democrats could show up on that issue alone,” Hartley said. “That’s going to benefit Wes Moore and Brooke Lierman and Anthony Brown.”
Other factors are driving voters to the polls, to lesser degrees: 6% said they are motivated by rising crime; 5% by women’s rights; 4% because of threats to democracy; 3% because of health care access; 2% because of education and another 2% for cannabis legalization.
The General Assembly passed legislation to allow voters to determine in a referendum this fall if Maryland’s constitution should be amended to allow for the legalization of marijuana for personal use by people 21 and older.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.
About this poll
Results are based on a representative statewide survey of 559 Democratic, 254 Republican and 169 unaffiliated Maryland residents likely to vote in the Nov. 8 election. The poll was conducted Oct. 20-23 by OpinionWorks of Annapolis for Baltimore Sun Media and the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs and Schaefer Center for Public Policy. A cross section of voters were randomly selected and contacted by trained interviewers on cellphones and landline telephones, and additional voters were interviewed online through databases known as consumer panels. Statistical weights were applied to ensure the sample closely matched the expected makeup, based on past voting patterns, of the state’s electorate. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
This article has been corrected to say how many Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated likely voters went into the poll's methodology. The Sun regrets the error.