Maryland Voters Have Economy, Obama on Their Minds

By VEENA TREHAN, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (March 5, 2008) - Maryland voters worry most about the economy, rate President Bush poorly and think Sen. Barack Obama is the best leader for the country, according to a new poll.

The poll released Wednesday, the day after the Ohio and Texas primaries, shows Marylanders' economic worries mirror those nationally, despite the relative economic stability of what some experts have termed a "recession-proof" state.

The economy skyrocketed to the top of the list of voter concerns in the Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies poll conducted from Feb. 23 to March 1. Since the company's January 2008 poll, economic concerns leapfrogged health care, education and taxes in importance. In this poll, more than twice as many voters listed it as their top concern.

"To have people change attention and behavior in that short period of time shows there's some extraordinary force in the body politic," said Keith Haller of Potomac Inc., another pollster.

Economic worries are atypical for Maryland, said Laslo Boyd, partner at Gonzales Research.

"This is the most pressing issue for the first time I can remember," said Boyd, who has worked at the firm for five years.

Very high percentages of Texans and Ohioans rated the economy as their top concern, according to various reports of exit polling in those states.

Maryland's economy has been strong. It ranked in the top quarter of all states in terms of unemployment and second in median income, according to federal statistics.

"The economy of Maryland has been somewhat protected by stable federal government and spending in and around Washington," said Haller.

Bad economic news coupled with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's warnings about inflation and continued downturns in the housing market are making people nervous, said Haller. Combine that with price increases and financial market volatility affecting pocketbooks, and you understand voter anxiety about money issues.

"You've got the housing market completely asunder and you've got energy prices with exponential increases, you've got a budget deficit that are causing markets to go haywire," said Haller. "You've got almost a perfect storm of conditions and circumstances."

A Wednesday Rasmussen Report poll found that consumer confidence plummeted nationally to the lowest level in the seven-year history of the survey. Within Maryland, it is lower than Haller has seen in 20 years.

Economic concerns dovetail with national ones, Boyd said. A majority of Democratic, Republican and independent voters report the United States is headed the wrong way. Only 17 percent think the country is headed in the right direction.

Just 27 percent of Marylanders approve of the job President Bush is doing.

That makes President Bush's endorsement Wednesday of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a mixed blessing. While it may boost campaign contributions and support from conservatives, it also could lead to closer association with the administration's most disliked policies, particularly the Iraq war.

Either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Obama would win Maryland in the general election, the poll showed, but the state has gone for the Democratic presidential candidate in the last four elections.

But Obama beats McCain in Maryland by 14 points, twice Clinton's predicted margin.

Boyd attributes this lead to Obama's greater support by Republicans and independents.

While it might matter less in Maryland, the result might carry larger implications for the nation.

"To the extent it is translatable to how independents and Republicans react around the country it has potential to determine the general election in other states."

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