Despite wins on a number of high-profile issues in 2012 and what very well could be another successful legislative session this year, Gov. Martin O’Malley isn’t getting a lot of love from Marylanders for a possible 2016 presidential bid.
Only a quarter of Marylanders want O’Malley to seek the nation’s top post in 2016, a possibility that has been widely speculated with his final term as governor expiring in 2014, according to a poll out last week.
What makes the finding even more intriguing, the poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, an Annapolis-based firm that routinely conducts surveys on Maryland political issues, found more than half of respondents approve of the job O’Malley is doing as governor.
“This is not uncommon,” said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City. “Multiple surveys in other states in the past have shown similar results. (Respondents) express approval, but when you ask them if their senator or congressman or governor should run for a higher office, they say, ‘Oh, no.’”
O’Malley’s approval rating is at 54 percent, the second-highest rating Gonzales has recorded since O’Malley (D) took office in 2007; the highest was in January 2011, at 58 percent. Forty-one percent disapprove of the job he is doing, according to the survey.
On the question of whether O’Malley should run for president, only 25 percent said he should. Even among fellow Democrats, 44 percent said he should stay out of the race, while 32 percent would like to see him run.
The gap between approval in his current office and an apparent lack of enthusiasm about his seeking the higher post could have any number of explanations, Eberly said, and few of them have to do with O’Malley’s perceived shortcomings.
Some respondents might not understand that O’Malley cannot seek a third term as governor, or they might think launching a presidential campaign will distract him from doing the state’s work, he said.
“A lot of people don’t know when their givernornor’s term ends or if he’s term-limited,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of University Park. “It could be the biases of people who want to keep him. I’m not sure the 25 percent figure matters much. I think the people like him, and they’ve supported him and would continue to support him.”
Others might have decided already there is someone else they favor for president, said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University.
“When you ask about approval rating, he’s not running against anyone else. He’s not being compared to someone else,” Crenson said. “But someone like (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton, she has a worldwide reputation. In her presence, Gov. O’Malley might look less presidential.”
Some might approve of the job O’Malley is doing but think he couldn’t win a general election, especially with all the progressive causes he has championed during his time in Annapolis. Still others just might not like him, Crenson said.
“Voters in the early stages of a campaign tend to gravitate toward people they don’t know very much about,” Crenson said. “But familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. Not only is he old news, but there are some contradictions they’ve found or things they don’t necessarily like about him.”
One example might be O’Malley’s push to end the death penalty contrasted with his rare use of his pardon powers, Crenson said.
“Or, there’s things he’s ambivalent on,” he said. “Once, he was against gambling. Then he was for it.”
O’Malley’s own party aside, 59 percent of independents said he should not run, as did 83 percent of Republicans. More women would welcome an O’Malley presidential bid — 28 percent compared with 21 percent of men, and more blacks than whites would look favorably on a run — 38 percent vs. 21 percent.
But if O’Malley does decide to seek the top office in the land, the new poll should be no indication of how he would fare in Maryland, Eberly said.
“When someone does choose to run, they generally win the primary in their home state,” Eberly said.
Richard Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University who has close ties to former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said he would be astonished if O’Malley didn’t win Maryland by a landslide — either in a Democratic presidential primary or in a general election.
“Polls like this vary tremendously from month to month and year to year,” Vatz said. “You just don’t know at this point why people think he shouldn’t run ... But it seems to me (O’Malley) would get Maryland’s support, no matter what he did.”
At this juncture, O’Malley is not saying whether he does plan to run for president.
“The governor is focused on his job as the governor,” spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said.
The Gonzales survey interviewed 801 registered Maryland voters between Jan. 15 and Jan. 20 on issues affecting the state. The poll’s margin of error was 3.5 percentage points. Fifty-six percent of those polled were Democrats; 30 percent were Republicans, and 14 percent were independents.