- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Seven in 10 Maryland voters want to ban smoking statewide, even in bars, according to a poll released today.

The statewide poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies also showed that with Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, in office for just two weeks, voters don’t have strong feelings for him. Fifty percent gave him a “favorable” rating and 23 percent rated him “unfavorable,” with the rest saying they were neutral or didn’t recognize him.

Mr. O’Malley defeated incumbent Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in November with 53 percent of the vote. The month Mr. Ehrlich took office, his favorable rating was at 62 percent.

However, 61 percent of Marylanders said the state is heading in the right direction.

The poll, made available to the press by the Annapolis-based marketing and research company, asked 809 registered voters who vote regularly. It was conducted by telephone Jan. 22 through Sunday and has a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

The voters had much stronger feelings about two health-related measures being considered by the legislature.

Almost three-quarters of the respondents — 74 percent — said they favored a bill that would require Maryland to join California and other states with tougher emission requirements for cars, compared with one mandated by the federal government. The so-called “clean cars” bill was favored by Democrats (79 percent), Republicans (67 percent) and independents (69 percent).

Survey author Patrick Gonzales said opinions could shift on the cars bill when voters learn more about it.

Asked whether smoking should be banned in restaurants and bars, 70 percent of respondents said yes. About 24 percent opposed the idea, with the rest undecided.

The poll also showed changing opinions about slot-machine gambling, one of the most divisive questions facing Maryland politicians in recent years. A narrow majority — 53 percent — said slots should be allowed at Maryland racetracks, a 4 percent increase from a year ago.

Democrats were more likely to support slots now that Mr. O’Malley supports them. Support among Democrats was 49 percent. A year ago it was 38 percent. The opposite was shown among Republicans. Sixty percent of them said they supported slot-machine gambling. The number in support a year ago was 69 percent.

Other aspects of the slots debate remained similar to earlier surveys. Men of both parties were more likely than women to favor slots. The idea was most popular in the Baltimore area and least popular in the D.C. suburbs.

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