By ASHLEY M. LEWIS
ANNAPOLIS (Sept. 10, 2008)—Statewide support for the upcoming slots referendum has dropped since January, according to new survey numbers.
In the poll, conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies and released Tuesday, 49 percent of Marylanders said they would vote to allow slot machines in the November election.
In a similar Gonzales poll taken in January, 54 percent of voters said they supported the referendum, while 8 percent of voters remained undecided in both the January and September polls.
The Gonzales poll, conducted Aug. 29 to Sept. 5, surveyed 833 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
"There's been a little bit of a drop of support in every sub-group. As of right now, my guess is that the absence of any campaigning and grassroots efforts may have contributed the most to the drop in support," said Laslo V. Boyd, a partner in the polling firm. "For it to be such a high-profile issue, it seems as if there hasn't been any visible activity at all."
The same poll shows Gov. Martin O'Malley's approval rating is on the rise.
O'Malley's favorable rating jumped 9 points, from 39 percent in March to 45 percent in September.
In March 2007, O'Malley's approval rating was 52 percent, but it began to tank in November 2007 after he pushed through new taxes and tax increases in an effort to fix the state's $1.7 billion budget deficit.
"It probably has something to do with the general election. I don't see anything that's been done locally for him to have an 8-point percentage jump," said Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland. "Sometimes you have to distinguish between the person and the party. This jump could probably be from the excitement that everyone felt after watching the conventions."
O'Malley's favorable rating tracks with that of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee. Well over half of Marylanders, 57 percent, had a favorable opinion of Obama, during the latest poll, which went out just as the Democratic National Convention closed.
If the general election were held during the polling period, 52 percent said they would vote for Obama, while 35 percent of the state's voters said they would vote for McCain. Another 10 percent were undecided.
"It's normal for Maryland to favor Obama—we're a Democratic state. What you have now is an accumulation of Republican public policies that have soured among the people in Maryland," Walters said. "And the impact of the war and Bush's policies have more people turning away from him."
Bush had a 23 percent approval rating in the Gonzales poll, an all-time low among Maryland voters since he was elected.
The slots referendum on the November ballot has slightly more support among Maryland Republicans than Democrats. It would permit so-called "video lottery" licenses in Anne Arundel, Cecil, Worcester, and Alleghany Counties, as well as Baltimore. Supporters hail slots as the key to funding public school construction and improvements, while opponents say slots will increase the number of gambling addicts and draw from other attractions.
A hot topic during last fall and spring, talks of the slots referendum seems to have dissipated in the publicity surrounding the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
"I think a lot of people were surprised by the drop. A program often moves when there's a public move made, but in the absence of any real campaigning for or against the slots, I would say that the drop is a bit unusual," Boyd said.
Boyd also attributes the drop to an increase in opponents' grassroots efforts.
"We're a little less than two months out (from the November election) and the referendum is definitely in play," Boyd said. "And supporters for the slots are now learning that 'We just can't take this for granted anymore.'"
Capital News Service contributed to this report.