A majority of Maryland residents approve of Gov. Martin O'Malley's performance but are sharply divided on his efforts to legalize same-sex marriage and allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, according to a poll released Monday.
About 49 percent of Marylanders polled last month said they would oppose a law allowing gay marriage, while 48 percent said they would support it, according to the poll conducted by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies Inc.
A majority of respondents — 51 percent — said they disagreed with the Maryland Dream Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition rates if they graduate from Maryland high schools and come from tax-paying families.
About 47 percent of those polled said they agree with the bill, which the General Assembly passed in April. Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the bill into law in May, but petitioners then collected enough signatures to force it to a November 2012 referendum.
Mr. O'Malley has spoken in support of both causes and has pledged to sponsor a gay-marriage bill in next year's General Assembly. His same-sex marriage bill last year died in the House. A spokeswoman for the governor said Monday that the poll's results do not show a rift between his views and those of voters but that the public is simply divided on the two issues.
"It's split even," O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said, adding that the results were within the poll's 3.5 percent margin of error. "We believe that as the months move forward and people actually become more aware of what the two bills actually do, that they will be supportive."
Gonzales polled 805 registered Maryland voters, who were surveyed by telephone between Sept. 19 and 27.
Participants were chosen to reflect statewide demographics, with 56 percent being Democrats, 31 percent being Republicans and 13 percent being independent. Nearly three-fourths of respondents were white, and 65 percent came from the Baltimore and District suburbs.
Participants also were divided on the state's overall path, with 45 percent saying the state is headed in the right direction while 47 percent said it is headed in the wrong direction. However, 82 percent of respondents characterized the state's current budget situation — which includes an expected $1 billion shortfall in next year's budget and talk of cuts and tax increases — as a "crisis" or "major problem."
Despite divided views on some of Mr. O'Malley's key initiatives, 52 percent of those polled said they approve of the governor's performance, compared to 40 percent who disapproved.
Mr. O'Malley's approval rating was a significant decrease from January this year, when a Gonzales poll showed 58 percent approval and 30 percent disapproval of the governor. However, his current 52 percent rating is higher than any of his pre-January ratings, dating back to his early days in office in March 2007.
The poll touched on a number of other state and national issues, including Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin's race for re-election next year.
The poll showed Mr. Cardin, a Democrat, to be in a relatively comfortable position despite expected challenges from several Republicans and a potential challenge by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Prince George's Democrat.
About 32 percent of participants said they definitely will vote for Mr. Cardin, while another 31 percent said they will consider him. More than one-third of Republicans said they would consider re-electing him.
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