- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2013

Maryland voters support controversial initiatives passed by the General Assembly this year ending the death penalty and imposing strict new gun laws, but poll results released Wednesday show voters holding Gov. Martin O'Malley accountable for an unpopular increase in the gas tax.

The Democratic governor had a 48 percent approval rating in September — his lowest rating in three years, according to the Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies poll. The figure was down from 54 percent in January. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they disapproved of his job performance.

Mr. O'Malley had maintained an approval rating of more than 50 percent since January 2011, when 58 percent of voters backed him. The last time Mr. O'Malley’s approval rating dropped below 50 percent was in October 2010, just before he won re-election against Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The lowest approval rating for Mr. O'Malley was in March 2008, when he only gathered a 37 percent approval rating.

“The biggest hit he took was after the special session in 2007. They increased sales tax by a penny,” pollster Patrick Gonzales said.

Looking at what he considered the two biggest issues of this year’s General Assembly session — gun control and repeal of the death penalty — Mr. Gonzales said people who approved of the initiatives appeared to be supporters of Mr. O'Malley. But a vast and bipartisan majority of respondents, 76 percent, disapproved of the increase in the state’s gas tax.

“Whenever you raise taxes you create problems for yourself, even in Maryland,” Mr. Gonzales said. “It sort of appears obvious to me that he paid a price on that one.”

The bill signed by Mr. O'Malley increased the gas tax 4 cents this year, to 27.5 cents per gallon. The tax will increase to 43.5 cents per gallon when fully implemented in 2016. Lawmakers also tied the tax to the rate of inflation, meaning future increases will occur automatically as is done in 16 other states.

About 58 percent of respondents said they approved new gun-control measures, while roughly 49 percent of voters surveyed said they supported a new law abolishing the death penalty in the state.

Among other findings in the poll, early numbers showed that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown was ahead in next year’s race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, with 40.7 percent support from polled voters, compared to 21.1 percent for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, and 5.2 percent for Delegate Heather R Mizeur of Montgomery County.

A third of voters, however, were undecided.

President Obama’s 58 percent approval rating was a 6 percentage point drop from his rating at the beginning of this year.

The poll of 819 likely voters was conducted Oct. 1-14 and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Of the 819 registered Maryland voters surveyed, about 57 percent were Democrats, about 31 percent were Republicans and about 12 percent were independent.