If you go over to Politicker, you'll see the new web ad that For Maryland, For Our Future put up. Whose name, by the way, was co-opted by some public relations hack from the Sierra Club's long time slogan, "For our families, for our future." Though as branding goes, the fact that Fred Puddester gets the name of the organization wrong in the video (he calls it 'The Campaign for Maryland's Future) is bad enough. One of two things is happening, as well, either A. My internet connection is running really slow, or B. FMFOF posted their video in VERY high resolution, which would certainly be stupid, because it keeps pausing every second or so to load the video.
In the course of the ad, they promise that passing slots will lead to the following: no new taxes, invest $700 million into schools (not mentioning that this would not be new spending), stop all cuts to public safety and health care, and continue to pay for the tuition freeze at Maryland universities. They also say that not passing it will lead to increased class sizes and layoffs of teachers.
In other words, passing it will give us everything we could ever want. Ever. And if we don't pass it, all government will collapse and we will be thrust into a second dark age from which humanity may never recover. So vote for slots. Or else.
Or maybe I could have just said that I think it's over the top.
The Sun has a good piece on the slots debate heating up. We had a long lull, but now that we're past Labor Day things are going to be moving pretty quickly. The most interesting part of the article, for me, was this:
"I'm a proponent in a major, active way," O'Malley said during a radio appearance last week, explaining his stance on slots. But he added: "I will not demagogue on it. I don't believe, as some have said in the past, that the only way to fund essential government services is through gambling. I don't subscribe to that."But O'Malley, whose job approval rating bounced from a low of 37 percent in March to 45 percent this month in the Gonzales poll, faces a dilemma over whether to become the face of the pro-slots movement.
If the slots measure loses, the failure could be seen as a midterm election loss.
Slots are a lot more popular among Republicans than among Democrats and Independents. In other words, the referendum could easily become an albatross around O'Malley's neck, both in a primary and in a general, the former because angry Democratic voters could revolt and the latter because they could decide that volunteering isn't worth it, handing the race to a Republican Party on the positive end of an enthusiasm gap.
One very smart politician I talk to once told me that he thinks of the Democratic base in Maryland in terms of three groups:
- Dedicated Democrats: white middle to upper class dems mostly west of 95
- Demographic Democrats: black and latino voters, concentrated in Prince George's County, Baltimore City, and a strip of eastern Montgomery
- Dundalk Democrats: white working class voters mostly east of 95
According to his theory, O'Malley feels confident about the first two groups. He doesn't think middle and upper class progressives or the black communities will ever leave the party, so he focuses on the Dundalk Democrats. According to my politician firned: "We are now living under the Dundalk principle. We can only do things that play in Dundalk."
Unfortunately for O'Malley, this is a pretty myopic view. You've got to keep all portions of the base happy, and slots is an issue that deeply divides them. And what's more, on slots, O'Malley is on the wrong side of the enthusiasm gap. It's exactly those dedicated dems, many of them staunchly progressive, and the black church-going voters who most hate the idea of bringing gambling parlors to Maryland. And they're a lot more passionate about the issue than those who like the idea of slots.
On the other hand, O'Malley's pretty strongly associated with slots. So perhaps ratcheting up that association won't really change much in voters minds. How do I know? If you looked closely at the cross-tabs from the Gonzales Poll, you saw something really interesting. Both Democrats (48-44) and Republicans (53-38) support the referendum, but Independents oppose it by a 14% margin. There are only two reasons I can think of the Damocrats support it despite the more reasoned and reasonable opposition of independents - either the fear-mongering about service cuts has worked or, more likely from my perspective, there are a lot of Democrats who don't feel strongly either way and are simply following O'Malley's leadership. So not only do I think O'Malley is tied to this thing, but I think his association with it is the major thing keeping the referendum afloat right now.
But, form a purely political perspective, there are really four options here for O'Malley at this point:
A. O'Malley supports slots more strongly, and they pass, in which case he gets slots but has still alienated big chunks of his base.
B. O'Malley supports slots more strongly, and they fail, in which case he both alienates his base and looks ineffective.
C. O'Malley backs off on slots, and they fail, in which case the base isn't so annoyed at him but Mike Miller and pro-slots Democrats are.
D. O'Malley backs off on slots, and they pass, in which case Mike Miller may still be annoyed at him, but the base is happier and pro-slots Dems got what they wanted anyway.
I guess you could also make a couple options for whether O'Malley gets the lion's share of blame for the referendum's passage or failure. But that's getting a little complex for a Sunday morning. As to the four options above, though, it seems to me like a fairly obvious choice. Backing off the issue some reduces the political risks considerably. But, then, I'm biased.
A three-judge panel in Anne Arundel County has agreed with slots opponents that the language of the slots referendum is biased. But the only change they want made is to add one word: primarily. As in, slots will primarily benefit education. Of course, their new recommendation doesn't mention that money from the referendum also goes to pay for services for gambling addicts. Because that would reflect badly on the one-armed bandits.
The long, hard wait for more Gonzales polling is over. Gonzales Research has just released its most recent Maryland Media Poll, and it looks like the slots referendum isn't doing well. According to the polling, 49% of Marylanders now say they support the referendum, and 43% oppose. That's a 10 point swing from January, when the margin was 54-38. Marylanders United to Stop Slots wasted no time in using the poll, sending out a blast e-mail. Quote of the day:
Pollsters note that widely known and debated referendums polling under 50% are on life support.
To my list of quibbles with Marylanders United over small annoyances, the fact that they quoted the Fox News of newspapers, the Washington Times, in their e-mail is obnoxious. But I'm willing to let it pass, because this is very good news for slots opponents. 10 points in two months is doable.
Update: Other news from the Gonzales poll...
- O'Malley's approval rating is rebounding. Essentially, his approval/disapproval reversed from 37-48 in March to 45-35 now (Isaac caught this before me). It's still under 50%, which puts him in tenuous territory for re-election, but the rebounding numbers may scare off some potential Republican challengers. And some Democratic ones as well.
- Meanwhile, Bush's approval rating has dropped to a spectacularly low 23%. You could probably get 23% to agree that the moon is made of cheese, so we're now pretty deep into 'worst President ever' territory.
- A whopping 42% of Marylanders ranked the economy as the biggest challenge facing Maryland. It's impressive to see that much agreement. Second place was taxes, at 12, followed closely by education.
- Obama continues his solid lead in Maryland, taking John McCain 52-38 if the election were held today. No surprise. Just more confirmation that this is a blue state. The polling window includes Obama's convention bounce, but not McCain's, and it could therefore be argued that it overestimates Obama's lead. However, the Gonzales polling matches the pollster.com composite almost exactly.In any case, we're not a swing state, so the only ads we'll catch are targetted at Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Authorizing video lottery terminals (slot machines) to fund education
Authorizes the state to issue up to five video lottery licenses for the purpose of raising revenue for education of children in public schools, prekindergarten through grade 12, public school construction and improvements, and construction of capital projects at community colleges and higher education institutions. No more than a total number of 15,000 video lottery terminals may be authorized in the State, and only one license may be issued for each specified location in Anne Arundel, Cecil, Worcester, and Allegany Counties and Baltimore City. Any additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming in Maryland is prohibited, unless approved by a voter referendum.
And, as was feared, the language is biased. Rather than simply saying the referendum will legalize slot machine gambling, it ties legalization to education funding. The fact is that any slots money going to education won't be new money, but rather money to meet existing commitments, but the language is worded to suggest to people that it will be more funding for schools. Further, it doesn't mention the money going to horse racing purses or to help gambling addicts, the latter of which would certainly raise the issue of gambling addiction among voters. This needs to go to court, so a judge can impose some neutrality on McDonough.
Slots opponents said Thursday that they are contemplating a lawsuit to contest the wording of a November referendum on whether to allow the establishment of 15,000 slot machines at five sites across the state.
Whether McDonough is biased on the issue or not, the reasonable assumption that he is corrupts the process. Referenda should be worded as neutrally as possible, and that may mean that in the future it is necessary to create a non-partisan panel, perhaps made up of judges or some other relatively neutral party, to craft the language in these questions. In the meantime, McDonough should have recused himself and, in the absence of that, the lawsuit is a good idea if the language is not neutrally worded.
In a triumph of investigative reporting that will stand through the ages, the Baltimore Sun has discovered that there are rich people who oppose the slots referendum. Wow. Who woulda thunk it? Who knew that there are people with wealth who are religious, or progressive, or both?
Seems like this is a ridiculous attempt to counteract one of the greatest criticisms of the pro-slots forces, that they get funding from those who stand to directly benefit from the legalization of slots. Of course, we've seen over the last few weeks as both sides have waged a public relations battle over whether either side will accept campaign contributions from gambling interests, but that doesn't prevent companies like Penn National who want to own one of the slots parlors from waging an independent expenditure campaign. And people tend to be a lot more willing to spend money to support something that helps them financially than to oppose something they happen to dislike. Hence:
According to the National Institute of Money in State Politics, the 2006 election cycle saw ballot measures in five states concerning gambling issues: Ohio, South Dakota, Arkansas, Nebraska and Rhode Island. Pro-gambling committees in those states raised nearly $47 million, compared with $7 million by the opposing committees. Gambling-related enterprises with a direct stake in the measures provided almost 90 percent of the contributions; in Rhode Island, casino companies engaged in a turf war over a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed a Native American tribe to open a resort casino.
I want to clarify, for what I hope will be the last time, my comments on MSTA. And this has served for me as a reminder of one of the inherent problems of being a part-time blogger. I sometimes over-reach. In conversations over the last few days, I've come to believe that I was wrong in my assertions about the motivations of the MSTA Board for the decision they made. They did spend a lot of time thinking through the issue, and the decision was made in the end because there was a belief that slots will help deal with the budget problems and ensure continued funding for public schools. They're wrong. But I think the decision was made in good faith. And it was unfair of me to suggest otherwise.
With all the polls that have been coming out recently, I feel like I have percentages and methodologies coming out of my ears. But this one's interesting. Gonzales Research just released new numbers in their January 2008 Maryland Poll. It echoes what we know from the Sun poll, that O'Malley took an approval beating during the special session, and that Marylanders strongly disapprove of the regressive increase in the sales tax. But the slots responses are a bit of a surprise - it seems the approval/disapproval gap is shrinking.
The last time Gonzales polled the slots question, back in Ocotber, the poll showed 59% approval and 35% disapproval. The new poll shows 54% approval and 38% approval. So if the November election were today, Marylanders would probably approve slots. But we've got 9 months, and those approval numbers seem to be dropping fairly rapidly towards that essential 50% mark. The polling memo also notes:
Typically on these types of ballot questions support at the beginning is at or is approaching its peak, while opposition tends to grow throughout the campaign...
This is, to say the least, encouraging. In earlier postings, I'd theorized that an ailing economy would push voters towards support for slots to maintain government programs, and I still think that's true in general. But the economy has only gotten worse since October, and yet the numbers have decreased. So it seems perceptions of the state of the economy may have less influence then I'd thought.
What follows is the second in a four part series about the potential for defeat of the slots referendum next fall. In part 1, we looked around the country at the success rate of gambling referendums in the last three years. Today, we'll take a look at what polling tells us about Maryland voters and their opinion of slots.
Before we move on to today's topic, two significant slots referenda were pointed out to me that I wanted to mention, both in states that are much less progressive than Maryland. In 2002, Arizona voters killed a slots expansion to dog and horse tracks 80%-20%, and in 2003 Colorado voters crushed a slots legalization amendment by the same margin. What makes these interesting is that they happened during the last economic 'dip' we experienced. In other words, the "slots will benefit the economy" argument, which is tied to the, "slots will raise state revenue in tight budget times argument, may not have long legs.
In any case, on to polling. Some main ideas for you before we dive into the details: 1. Support for slots tends to rise when the economy is not doing well, so success or failure on the referendum depends in part on the economic mood of voters. 2. The strongest arguments slots supporters have are that slots will help raise revenue for the state budget and that they will help capture revenue currently going across the border to other states. 3. Support for slots is consistently stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, an advantage given the dominance of Democratic voters in Maryland. 4. Men and white voters tend to support slots more strongly than women and black voters, which may be an advantage given turnout dynamics for next year's presidential race.
Here’s how long my predictions tend to last… On Saturday I mentioned that I thought the public would pass a slots referendum next fall. On Sunday I got a call from Delegate Tom Hucker, who disagreed and pointed out some interesting information. Today, I took some time to research what Delegate Hucker said, and now I’m back on the fence. The point is this: there’s a good case to be made that putting slots to referendum will successfully kill the issue once and for all. But it is a dice roll, if you’ll excuse the cheesy pun.
Before you read any further, go read Adam Pagnucco’s post at Maryland Politics Watch on why a vote for the slots referendum shouldn’t be punished by progressives, and I’ll echo Adam. A lot of good anti-slots progressives voted for the referendum, and shouldn’t get beaten up for it. The fact is that the gambling interests would have eventually been able to get enough pro-slots candidates elected to get a bill through the legislature. If we beat slots at referendum, we can put the issue to bed. And in any case, without the referendum vote the special session would have absolutely imploded, wrecking the state’s budget and its valuable social programs. Now, back to the referendum itself.
There's at least a good chance that slots will fail when it goes to referendum next fall, despite the seemingly endless pot of money that the gambling interests will throw at it. What it will take is a whole lot of hard work by a broad coalition of slots opponents. Explaining why is too long and complex for a single post, so I'll do it in a series of posts over the next week or two: on the national record of gambling ballot questions, the Maryland polling numbers on slots, the lay of the land politically across the state, and on where slots opponents go from here. Today after the fold: big gambling's national success rate on ballot questions.