Maryland voters are split on the direction of the state and the economy, and chiefly concerned about crime, according to a new survey from Goucher College Poll and The Baltimore Banner.

Heading into next month’s primary election, crime, taxes, and economic development and jobs ranked at the top of a list of voters’ priorities, the poll found. Among a subset of Maryland voters, 78% of respondents said crime was a “major factor” that would influence their support of a political candidate. Economic development and jobs was another major factor for 76% of respondents, while 75% of those surveyed called taxes and government spending a major factor in their vote.

Voters, meanwhile, are split on the direction of the state, with about 40% believing Maryland is heading in the right direction and 43% thinking it’s on the wrong track. They’re also equally divided on Maryland’s economic situation, with 45% calling it “mostly negative” and 45% saying it’s “mostly positive.” Democrats were more likely to have a positive view of the direction of the state and the economy than Maryland voters overall.

The survey of 800 registered voters in the state was conducted by landline and cellphone from March 19 to March 24. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The poll also surveyed 408 likely Democratic voters about the primary election. Those questions had a 4.9 percentage point margin of error.

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The poll found that U.S. Rep. David Trone has a slight lead over Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks heading into May’s Democratic primary, while both would face a close matchup in November against former Gov. Larry Hogan. In addition, about 54% of respondents approve of Gov. Wes Moore’s job performance while 28% disapproved, and another 16% didn’t know.

Respondents were also asked how they felt about several topical issues such as the Israel-Hamas war, public transportation and infrastructure, and abortion.

With Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate hanging in the balance, all eyes are on Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat, one of several competitive races that are likely to determine control of the chamber in November. Republicans are also fighting to win back control of the White House with former President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

The “big issues” at the top of mind for voters this year haven’t changed much from years prior, said Mileah Kromer, associate professor of political science and the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College. And some issues, like abortion, may not turn Marylanders out to the polls as much as in other states where access has been curtailed.

“We’ve made assumptions, and it’s true among Democrats that abortion matters a lot. But crime, taxes, government spending — that’s driving voters overall,” Kromer said.

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About 60% of Maryland voters overall consider abortion a “major factor” that would affect their vote, and the sentiment was even more pronounced among likely Democratic voters. Of them, 73% called abortion a major factor.

For William Beck, a Democrat from Harford County, a candidate’s stance on abortion is the largest single factor dictating his vote.

Beck, a retiree who supported Hogan as governor, said he would not risk voting for a candidate who could help further the agenda of the “former Republican party” that now overemphasizes far-right viewpoints, including limiting reproductive health care access.

“I can only say that I will be voting for whichever Democrat comes out of the primary,” Beck said about the U.S. Senate race.

Democrats also had stronger feelings about the environment and health care compared to Maryland voters overall. Meanwhile, Maryland voters overall felt more strongly about immigration, government spending and taxes than likely Democratic voters.

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The poll was conducted about a week before the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore and prior to Moore’s declaration of a state of emergency. At least some of those surveyed — who spoke with The Banner after the event — think Moore has been responding well to the calamity.

“I think he’s probably handling it as well as anyone could, it’s a terrible thing,” said Ann Gardenhour, 86, a Republican from Prince George’s County.

Gardenhour, a retired teacher, doesn’t have much of an opinion about Moore otherwise. “I guess he’s doing okay,” she said. “But Maryland doesn’t do very well, period.”

Some of those surveyed said the state focuses too much on social issues and not enough on other, more pressing needs, such as public safety and guns.

That’s the case for Michael Scott, a Republican voter from La Plata in Charles County. A 58-year-old federal employee, Scott disapproves of Gov. Moore’s spending on “progressive” programs.

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“We don’t need any more,” Scott said.

Among likely Republican voters, a whopping 90% considered taxes and government spending a major concern, along with 83% of unaffiliated voters. Among likely Democratic voters, 66% called it a major factor.

Lynn Strauss, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, said she’s tired of seeing her tax bills climb every year.

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“Not just straight taxes, but little taxes on everything,” said Strauss, a retired homemaker who worked in pharmaceutical and medical sales.

At the same time, Strauss, 59, said the state has done little to address Maryland’s social ills, including supporting people who are homeless and who have mental illness. She does not think Maryland is doing well “on many fronts.”

Party affiliation also dictated the extent to which survey respondents felt about crime and public safety: While 90% of Republicans and 76% of unaffiliated voters called them a major issue, 73% of Democrats agreed. Democrats overall felt more strongly about gun control (74%) and health care (80%).

In a presidential election year, Jesse L. Morrison, a Prince George’s County resident and unaffiliated voter, said another major factor will determine how he votes this year: Trump.

During other election cycles, Morrison, 65, has looked to vote against candidates who are likely to promote tax hikes. “Democrats have never seen a tax they don’t like,” he said. “And that sickens me, at times.”

But Morrison said his aversion to Trump’s style of politics will have an even larger influence over who he supports this year.

“I guess if the head of the ticket was not Trump, I could possibly vote for Larry Hogan,” Morrison said about Maryland’s U.S. Senate race. “But as long as Trump has the possibility of winning the American presidency: no way.”

Morrison, who works for the Department of Defense, said he’s not sure what to make of Moore’s performance as governor so far. He likes Hogan, even if he won’t support him in the Senate race.

On abortion, Morrison said it’s not his highest priority issue as a voter, but he still thinks it’s an important right.

“I’m sorry the Supreme Court made the decision they did,” Morrison said. “It should still be between a woman and her doctor.”

And on Moore, Morrison said he could go either way.

“So far, it’s been OK,” he said about the governor. “Nothing spectacular, but nothing I am upset over.”

Baltimore Banner reporters Jess Nocera and Royale Bonds contributed to this article.

Hallie Miller covers housing for The Baltimore Banner. She's previously covered city and regional services, business and health at both The Banner and The Baltimore Sun.

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