Thursday, November 1, 2012

Taking the Pulse

 (Goucher College) Maryland is not a factor in the Presidential race but, its voters are a laboratory experiment for a series of ballot questions with potential implications that will radically change life in the state. Where are Marylanders on these new initiatives? I got a chance to watch what it’s like to be in the room as pollsters are taking the pulse of an electorate.

It’s 7:00 pm in the Olga V. Bowden Library Classroom on the campus of Goucher College. There are 40 students seated at tables with headsets and computer screens.  They have spent an hour and half training with Mileah Kromer Kristen Keener Pinheiro of Goucher allowed me to watch. She tells me, “We’ve given them a script…to keep them focus.” A number of the students are getting nowhere with respondents, but others are getting more than they asked for. “How often do you attend church,” asks a questioner. She records the response into a screen. While the conversation continues I’m amazed that there is more gab between the pair. “Mam, I'm here just to collect the information,” and with that the conversation ends.
The Goucher Poll  joins a growing list of organizations conducting polls this season. Maryland hasn’t been in the mix of polls being watched because it’s not a battleground for the national campaigns. The state has become this unique laboratory on issues which may rise up on the national level.

They include a pair of questions via a referendum to allow instate tuition at community colleges for the children of undocumented workers; and the sanctioning of same sex marriage in the state. What will surprise no one is a lot of outside money has come in to stop these issues.  Conversely, championing these two issues is Governor Martin O’Malley who is hanging his attempts to run for President in 2016 on their passage.

Voter Referendum

Del. Neil Parrott
The conservative base has had little to hang its hat on in the state, but using computer based targeting Delegate Neil Parrott  has “flipped the script” on ballot initiatives. Until this year few if any initiatives reached the state threshold for being certified (18,000 signatures).  Delegate Parrott, a GOP member from Washington County, put up a website ( and asked for people to sign up and weigh in on the issue of instate tuition. People were able to sign the petition and he linked voting data to petitioners which allowed for little attrition on invalid names. Parrott and his followers also went in person to targeted districts who did not favor the change in the state law. Before long they had the required signatures and expanded the petition drive to encompass same sex marriage and a revision of the governors redistricting plan.

Pastor Derek McCoy
Initially, the public ground swell was evidence of a deep suspicion of Maryland government which came together in the election of Robert Erhlich as governor. Just as Erhlich learned you don't have enough Republicans in the state to win and it allows for unique coalitions. The idea of strange bedfellows was born in the marriage of Black Churches and same sex marriage. The legislative odd couple came when Del Parrott joined forces with Derek McCoy, of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. McCoy, who is Black, was able to tap into a large and vocal Black clergy to rally them against the idea of gay marriage. When I initially asked Mr. McCoy about fundraising for this cause he didn't have an answer. There is now an answer, and it has come from groups that are funding a media campaign which I expected.

Not to be Out Done
The Governor has been able to enlist a bevy of Hollywood heavyweights to back the same sex marriage issue. He’s made campaign stops from California,Washington, DC, and New York to showcase the issue and could serve as the bank he needs to make a presidential run. According to a source close to the governor, “he can tie up the Irish Catholics/Kennedy’s in New England and tie that to Hollywood and that’s a win win.”

To combat the religious/philosophical appeal from those oppose to same sex marriage those who favor granting marriage to same sex couples they have turned to the civil rights community which garners large following from those in the church. The big guns were brought in from Famed Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond and NAACP CEO Benjamin Jealous.

This is a win at all cost for the Governor. No state has approved either the same sex marriage issue or the instate tuition provision. The way I see it he wins if he wins or loses. If he wins he'll be able to tout it as an accomplishment. If he loses he can say, "see I tried."

What the Polls Say about Both Issues.


 Courtesy: Goucher Poll Dr. Mileah Kromer Director, Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center
 Rolling the Dice

If there is one issue on the ballot that is driving all other it is the issue of expansion of gambling.  The total spending for all media is in the neighborhood 70 million dollars. Much of the ads have targeted the population centers in Baltimore and the Washington, DC Metro Area. The wildcard if there is one is how will Prince Georges County vote? For several years the legislative members of the this group have fought back efforts to bring gambling to this District suburb. 

A recent debate at MPT studios between Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Jacqueline Goodall, the Mayor of Forest Heights. The debate became emotional and shed no light on what would be best for the county. This is where the rubber meets the road.  So how did this come out in the Goucher Poll?

Courtesy: Goucher Poll Dr. Mileah Kromer Director, Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center

Polls are only mere snapshots of an electorate at a given time. They tell you a simple truth, where voters are when they are sampled. I got a a chance to see the process and will vouch for its validity. I am still concerned about it's inability to take into account cellphone users (this poll factored in 25% of those polled). The sampling of mobile phone users will have to increase in the future in order to get a true picture of what voter are thinking.

For more information and detail on the Goucher Poll please go to