Gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore and his fellow Maryland Democrats are well-positioned to sweep statewide offices in this fall’s election, according to new polling from Goucher College in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR.
Moore holds 53% support and Republican Dan Cox holds 31% in the race for governor among 748 likely voters who were questioned about the race. Third-party candidates combined for 7% support, and just 9% of those polled were undecided.
Nearly 70% of respondents said they were set in their choice.
All of those results suggest that the election is firmly in Moore’s hands, with Cox facing a deficit that will be difficult to make up with just 50 days to go until Election Day, said pollster Mileah Kromer, director of Goucher College’s Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics.
“Democrats right now are poised to sweep the statewide races,” Kromer said, noting that Democrats also hold strong leads in the races for attorney general, comptroller and U.S. Senate. She expects Democrats will focus now on making sure their supporters actually turn out to vote in the fall election to ensure their victories.
And with so many voters firm in their choice, “right now, the poll indicates there’s not a lot of room for movement,” Kromer said.
Moore, 43, is a first-time political candidate who has had a varied career that included serving in Afghanistan with the Army, writing a best-selling memoir and leading the Robin Hood Foundation, an anti-poverty nonprofit based in New York City.
Cox, 48, has served one term in the Maryland House of Delegates and made a name for himself fighting against coronavirus restrictions and unsuccessfully trying to impeach current Gov. Larry Hogan. On Jan. 6, 2021, he attended President Donald J. Trump’s rally in Washington, D.C., but says he left before a mob overran the U.S. Capitol.
Maryland’s electorate is dominated by Democrats, who make up 54% of registered voters, compared to Republicans, who are 24%, according to state records. The remaining 22% of Maryland voters are unaffiliated or belong to third parties.
The formula for a Republican to win statewide office, as exemplified by Hogan, is to win support from almost all Republicans, many independents and 25% to 30% of Democrats.
Cox has not garnered that crossover support necessary to win. In the poll, just 6% of Democrats said they’d vote for him.
Moore, likewise, had little crossover support from Republicans — also 6% — but he can win on the strength of Democratic voters because there are so many of them.
“Mathematically, it does not matter,” Kromer said. “He could get no votes from Republicans and win. That’s just the nature of the electorate.”
Most of those polled identified Cox as “far or extreme right” (35%) or conservative (24%), which does not align with how voters view themselves in a left-of-center state like Maryland, Kromer said. Those polled described Moore largely as “progressive or liberal” (36%) or “moderate” (22%). Just 13% of those polled thought Moore was “far or extreme left.”
Cox’s association with Trump may have helped him win the Republican primary but is hurting him in the general election, Kromer said, as the ex-president remains unpopular with a 61% unfavorable rating in this poll. Loyalty to Trump is an “information shortcut” for many voters, helping them quickly decide whether or not to support a candidate, she said.
“As we all suspected, a close association with Donald Trump and the America First-MAGA part of the Republican Party is just not what wins you a general election,” Kromer said.
In the Republican primary, Cox handily defeated rival Kelly Schulz by nearly nine points. Schulz, an ally of the famously anti-Trump outgoing governor, positioned herself as a more moderate candidate with a better chance of appealing to voters across the political spectrum.
Moore’s significant lead is not unprecedented. Four years ago, Republican Hogan had a similarly lopsided 22-point lead over Democratic candidate Ben Jealous in a Goucher College poll. Hogan ended up winning by about 12 points.
Moore’s team took the poll as a positive sign as Maryland heads closer to voting, but they’re not counting on victory just yet.
“This poll makes clear that Dan Cox’s values are not Maryland’s values. That’s why the stakes are so high,” Moore campaign spokesman Carter Elliott IV said in a statement.
“While it’s clear Wes Moore has momentum, we can’t take our foot off the gas for even a second,” he said. “If Dan Cox wins, he’ll try to ban abortion, undermine our fair and free elections, and defund our public schools.”
The Cox campaign, in a statement, noted that eight years ago Hogan significantly trailed Democrat Anthony Brown in one poll before going on to win the election. Cox noted that the issues that poll respondents identified — crime, the economy and public schools — are among his top concerns.
“We see Marylanders are not happy with the direction of our taxes and the economy. We know they will vote for lower taxes and lower inflationary spending,” Cox said in a statement.
Voters speak out: ‘He’s just a no for me’
Several poll respondents who spoke with The Baltimore Banner said their choices for governor were influenced by broad concerns about the direction of the country and democracy. Cox’s alliance with Trump was a common theme among both the Republican’s supporters and detractors.
Moore represents the better choice for Wesley Miller, an unaffiliated voter from Davidsonville who worked in information technology before becoming a stay-at-home father during the pandemic. At a time when democratic institutions are under attack, Miller said, there was no way he would vote for Cox, who has advanced 2020 election conspiracy theories and is endorsed by Trump.
“I think he’s kind of extreme and I’m definitely not a supporter of Trump, and he leans in that direction,” Miller, 46, said of Cox. “He’s just a no for me.”
As a Black man, Miller said he usually focuses on issues of racial equality when picking candidates. But this year, protecting democracy and election integrity is more important. “Dan Cox aligning with the extremism of Trump and the far right and not respecting the democratic process in the last election cycle — to me, that’s the number one issue that faces us,” he said.
Carl Snowden, a former Democratic member of the Annapolis City Council and longtime civil rights activist, said Moore and Democrats have put together a dream ticket of candidates and have a “golden opportunity” to win across the board.
“This campaign is going to be a deciding factor of whether America moves forward or backward, whether it gets better or bitter,” said Snowden, a Moore supporter. “It’s probably the clearest case of voters having a choice between two very starkly different approaches to governing.”
Cox is wedded to Trump’s divisive ideology, Snowden said, while Moore has a much more appealing campaign promise to “leave no one behind.”
In the Democratic primary for governor, Pikesville resident Keven Pinder, 66, said he preferred Comptroller Peter Franchot, who finished third in a crowded field of 10 Democratic candidates on the primary ballot. So now he’s reluctantly supporting Moore in the general election over Cox, who he predicted “does not have a prayer.”
“I will vote for Moore,” he said. “I won’t be excited about it, but I’ll vote for Moore.”
Both Moore and Cox represent the extreme ends of their parties, Pinder said.
“I would say I am a centrist, and boy, is it lonely out here,” he said. “It’s MAGA hats and earth shoes,” his term for progressives.
Rockville resident Andy Kowl, 71, was initially turned off by Moore’s ambition, thinking he’s running for governor “as a stepping stone to the presidency.” But Kowl said he’d rather vote for a “bright young star” like Moore than an election conspiracy theorist like Cox.
“Anybody who is talking about the election being stolen is lying and creating problems for democracy,” Kowl said.
Parkville resident Adam Shaw, a registered Republican, plans to vote for all Republicans from Cox on down.
“It really wouldn’t have mattered who the Republican candidate is, I am voting for the Republican candidate,” said Shaw, 32, who works in a body shop. “I certainly don’t believe that Republicans are the answer to all of our problems, but I absolutely do believe that Democrats are causing problems.”
Shaw said he likes that Cox has the support of conservative voices he respects: Trump, radio host Ben Shapiro and podcaster and former Marylander Dan Bongino.
Shaw, a father of two, said he doesn’t support the teaching of racism and human sexuality in schools, saying that schools are causing “gender confusion issues” and “sexualizing children” in inappropriate ways. “The Republicans are more in line with parents being involved with their children’s schooling,” he said.
Other Democrats and marijuana legalization also have strong support
Moore isn’t the only Democrat to have a strong position heading into the fall election. Other Democrats for statewide offices hold similarly large advantages, according to the poll.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, has 56% support in his bid for re-election, compared to 33% for Republican challenger Chris Chaffee, with 8% undecided.
Democratic candidate for attorney general Anthony Brown leads Republican Michael Peroutka, 53% to 31%, with 15% undecided.
And in the election for comptroller, Democrat Brooke Lierman had 48% support to 35% support for Republican Barry Glassman with 16% undecided.
Those polled also offered strong support for legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use, which will appear as Question 4 on ballots this fall. A total of 59% said they would vote in favor of legalization, with 34% saying they’d vote against. Just 7% were undecided.
Kromer, the pollster, noted that the poll was conducted before pro-legalization campaigns had gotten off the ground. As voters see ads promoting marijuana legalization, she said, it’s possible support will increase.
The Goucher College Poll surveyed 1,008 adults, including 748 likely voters, by cellphone and landline during Sept. 8-12. The margin of error for the sample of likely voters is plus or minus 3.6%.
Baltimore Banner reporters Liz Bowie and Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.
This Goucher College Poll is a journalism collaboration between the Baltimore Banner and 88.1, WYPR-FM. Read and listen to more stories about what we learned all this week.