Drew Phillips, Staff Writer
This academic year’s second rendition of the semi-annual Goucher Poll released its full results Monday. The poll, which operates out of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center, surveys a random sample of Maryland residents about their political opinions by having trained Goucher students call landlines and cell phones in the state, over the course of five days. Dr. Mileah Kromer has directed the poll since its conception five years ago, and in that time has taken it from non-existent to the most highly regarded poll in Maryland. She describes the goal of the poll as attempting to continue to be a very solid statewide poll, while also “asking questions of a national interest.”
The poll was scheduled to be conducted from February 18th—22nd, but higher response levels than anticipated allowed calling to conclude on the 21st, having surveyed 776 Maryland adults. The results were not particularly shocking. President Donald Trump is exceedingly unpopular, with a 29 percent approval rating in heavily Democratic Maryland, however it should not go unnoted that he has a 71 percent approval rating among Republicans in the state. Republican Governor Larry Hogan remains popular with Marylanders, boasting a 63 percent approval rating; a 7 percent drop in support from last September, but a number which is still quite impressive. Additionally, Maryland’s congressional representatives Benjamin Cardin (D) and newly elected Chris Van Hollen (D) hold approval ratings of 45 and 44 percent, respectively. Congress continues to sit in the approval ratings cellar, only 21 percent of Maryland residents approve of the job they are doing.
Among questions about their representatives, Marylanders were also asked about a range of political topics facing the state. Among the most interesting and relevant topics, 60 percent of Maryland residents support raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, 58 percent support legalizing recreational marijuana, and 70 percent of the residents in the heavily gerrymandered state support having their congressional and legislative districts drawn by an independent commission rather than by the state’s elected officials. As usual, the poll has garnered a large deal of attention in the state, and even some national outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post and reporting the results. Fortunately, I was able to talk to Dr. Kromer for a bit so she could give The Q some insight into the Goucher Poll.
DP: First, I want to ask about polling in general. There was a lot of backlash against polling on the right and left following Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the general election this fall—do critics of polls have a point, or was there more of a misreading of the polls than the polls themselves being inaccurate?
MK: I think it was certainly more of a misreading of polls. The issue is, we have all these different individuals giving predictions and they all assign their own probability of an outcome—people really focused on the idea that Hillary Clinton had a 75 or 80, sometimes even 90 percent chance of winning. When you start to break it down and look at individual polls, what you see is that a lot of them were within the margin of error. For example, polls that were tracking Hillary Clinton nationally were correct, she did win the national popular vote. There were some polls that were off in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, they were a little bit outside the margin of error—Florida had issues with this as well. However, by and large most of these polls were within the margin of error. Keep in mind that there’s a plus or minus [with each poll] and if it’s at three percent or four percent and the poll has somebody up 49-48 over the other, that person is not up, they’re statistically indistinguishable from each other.
DP: And the Goucher Poll margin of error is usually at about 3.5, right?
MK: Right, we usually end up with between 600 and 700 or so interviews which puts us around a 3.5 percent margin of error.
DP: So in terms of the Goucher Poll, do you have any big takeaways from this round?
MK: Sure, so what I think is really interesting is that Governor Hogan’s approval ratings are back to what they were last year, exactly. In September of 2016, they reached a really high level—I think in a lot of ways an unsustainable level. It’s impossible for any politician, much less a Republican in a blue state to maintain a 70 percent approval rating. Now they’re back down to 63 percent, which is still really good.
DP: And that kind of has to do with my next question. Having read the press release I know that you don’t really think this dip in approval rating has to do with any sort of “Trump Effect,” so I guess your take on it is that this is sort of a regression to the mean?
MK: I guess my take on it is this: I think if there was a “Trump Effect” in the numbers, one, when we asked about whether Hogan is spending too much, too little, or the right amount of time addressing Trump related issues, if there was a true Trump effect you would see in the responses more people saying “too little time,” that number would have been very elevated. Secondly, when you actually run an analysis looking at Hogan’s approval ratings crosstabbed against Trump’s, 51 percent of those who disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as President, approve of the way Larry Hogan is handling his job. So there isn’t a natural overlap of one pulling the other one down. Finally, when we asked people who disapproved of the job Larry Hogan was doing, we asked people why, and only 12 percent of those individuals said they disapproved of Hogan because of Donald Trump. So we’re talking about a very small percentage of people within a very small percentage, and to me that just does not show a significant “Trump effect.”
DP: So when you started the poll five years ago, what were your aspirations for it?
MK: I think five years ago, my aspirations were to just get it off the ground. Then, I would have told you I would be completely satisfied to produce two methodologically rigorous and appropriate polls a year. Now, we’re starting to enter into a stage where we’re looking to the future. The Goucher Poll is certainly interested in expanding our offerings to maybe doing focus groups, and perhaps increasing the number of polls we do per year. Those are all things we’re thinking about for the future. We’ve really established ourselves as a poll of record in Maryland; we’re the go to poll, and so I think it’s really important that we start to now build on that reputation. I spent the first five years trying to build a very solid reputation for the poll, now it’s time to advance on that.