By ESTHER NGUONLY, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - One in four registered Maryland voters approves of the job Bush is doing, his lowest approval rating in the state, and fewer than one in five support his handling of the Iraq war, according to a survey released Wednesday by a Maryland polling firm.
The poll was conducted from Jan. 22 through 28—bracketing Bush's State of the Union address on Jan. 23—by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies. It carries a 3.5 percent margin of error.
Maryland voters also were asked who they wanted to see run the country after evaluating the current president's performance.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., led the group of five 2008 presidential candidates presented in the poll, with 44 percent of respondents offering a favorable opinion of her.
New York's former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani was next with 39 percent, followed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., with 36 percent, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., with 35 percent, and former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, with 32 percent.
"Certainly, Maryland's looking for a change. We saw that in the last election cycle," said former Prince George's County Councilman Peter Shapiro.
Maryland's 25 percent approval rating for Bush falls 11 points lower than the nation's 36 percent reported by a recent Gallup Poll.
"It's actually amazing that even 19 percent approve of the job Bush is doing (with the war)," said Shapiro, who described Maryland as an "independent-thinking state."
Maryland is a historically blue state, and its lower opinion of the president may be a result of its geographic location, said Zach P. Messitte, professor of political science at the St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Because it's near Washington, Maryland contains a high concentration of people involved in international work, including international businesses and government and defense agencies, making it especially interested in foreign policy, Messitte said.
"There's a particular sensitivity to how low our standing is" (in the international arena), as opposed to other states that are farther out, he said.
Moreover, the war has become quite unpopular in the military community, said Messitte, and Maryland is home to a large number of military installations and workers, including the U.S. Naval Academy, Fort Meade, Fort Detrick and Andrews Air Force Base.
A majority of Marylanders - 68 percent - opposes the president's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq by 20,000.
While the president's low popularity didn't surprise pollster Patrick Gonzales, he was struck by the drop in support for the president in his own party.
Among the state's Republicans, 54 percent approve of the job Bush is doing, but 39 percent disapprove.
"Even among his base he's slipping," said Gonzales. "That's not a good position for any incumbent to be in."
However, numbers may not indicate all that much, said Professor James C. Roberts of Towson University's political science department.
"These are fairly soft numbers," and may fluctuate, Roberts said.
A change in the media's focus, which recently trained on the Democratic takeover of Congress, may have fueled the public's disapproval level, Roberts explained.
"With Bush as a lame duck president, people tend to pay attention to other things and other people. It's not uncommon for poll numbers to drop in the second term," said Roberts. "People look to the future."