Contrary to some reports, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley doesn’t stand a chance in the Democratic presidential field
As much of 2016 election speculation centers around Hillary Clinton, other Democrats have been trying to break through the press wall. Arguably the most successful has been Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley. If you don’t live in his state or follow these things closely, you’re probably wondering, who?
O’Malley, with the help of a Democratic state legislature, has ushered through gun control, medical marijuana, a repeal of the death penalty, and a gas tax. In other words, he appears to have plenty of liberal chops. Despite all of these accomplishments, I remain skeptical about O’Malley’s prospects. Why?
Start with the fact that O’Malley seems to be having a hard time convincing Democrats in his own state that’s he up to the task. He only gets 7% of the vote among Maryland Democrats in a 2016 primary ballot test. Beyond that, O’Malley’s approval/favorable ratings suggest that the Democratic base aren’t his biggest fans.
His latest favorable rating (with undecideds allocated) among Maryland Democrats in a Goucher Poll conducted in March is only 74%. That matches his approval among Democrats in the Washington Post pollfrom late February.
We can compare this 74% home state Democratic approval to that of other possible 2016 contenders: Joe Biden (Delaware), Hillary Clinton (New York), Andrew Cuomo (New York), Brian Schweitzer (Montana), Mark Warner (Virginia), and Liz Warren (Massachusetts). In all cases in this article, we reallocate undecideds and third party votes based upon those who have already selected either a Republican or Democrat. All the polling data is the same as in a prior article I wrote on Andrew Cuomo except for those who have more recent data.
It turns out that O’Malley’s home state Democratic favorables are the worst by a long way – 11 pts worse than any other other contender, to be exact. Consider that Andrew Cuomo, who was a moderate who has tried to move to the left with new legislation, is at 85%. The median Democrat is 16 pts ahead of O’Malley at 90%. For those wondering, O’Malley’s Democratic support is actually down from his last statewide election, despite his progressive legislation blitz, when the percentage of Democrats he won was also the lowest of any of the listed 2016 contenders.
And lest you think that O’Malley is representative of Maryland’s Democrats, thanks to crosstabs provided to me by Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center and overseer of the Goucher Poll, we can see how Maryland’s other major statewide office holders are doing. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski both fall short of 90%, though are well above O’Malley with Democrats at 85% and 88% favorables, respectively, among Democrats.
Why is O’Malley’s lack of support a big deal? As I noted in my piece on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, I think it’s important to see how Democrats who know these candidates well think of them. If they don’t like them, then it’s unlikely that voters around the country will like them once they get to know them. These politicians are either passing or voting for legislation that isn’t as pleasing to the Democratic base as some might believe. That or they are doing a poor job of communicating their agenda. Neither is a good thing for someone running for president.
Some might retort to all of this that O’Malley might not be loved among Maryland’s Democrats, but he’s running to the left and is going to alienate some more moderate Democrats. The payoff is going to be that he’s going to be rewarded with financial support from national “progressives”. The flaw in that theory is that the data suggests differently.
Adam Bonica has developed a methodology that maps out the ideology of a candidate’s contributors. The most liberal politicians are closest to -2, while the most conservative are closer to +2. As I said last November, no system is perfect. This one, however, is checked against systems.
The good news for O’Malley is that his donor base is more liberal than Andrew Cuomo’s and “Nascar Democrat” Mark Warner of Virginia. The bad news is that he’s actually quite close to them with a score of -.786 to Cuomo’s -.646. That difference of 0.14 is more than double that between O’Malley and Clinton, who is at -1.109. As we would expect given her support from the netroots in 2012, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s score is far and away the most liberal at -1.664.
To put another way, O’Malley doesn’t have a history of attracting a liberal donor base. His donor base looks more moderate like Joe Biden’s. He’s very much unlike oft-cited comparison Howard Dean, who has a score nearly a deviation away of that of O’Malley’s at -1.482. Like Dean, O’Malley will likely need progressives’ money to overcome his lack of national name recognition. He’s currently polling at 0% in an Iowa caucus ballot test, even when Clinton isn’t on the poll question. He’s also currently at 0% in a New Hampshire primary ballot test. O’Malley is at a grand 1% in a national primary ballot test without Clinton. In all cases, he’s either last or tied for dead last.
All these numbers suggest that Martin O’Malley may be a current media liberal darling, but he has a long way to go to become a legitimate presidential contender. Even with a liberal agenda, Maryland Democrats have not warmed to him like one would expect. In addition, he has failed to attract a liberal donor base that will be necessary to raise his brand name.
O’Malley at this point remains unimpressive for 2016, regardless of whether Hillary Clinton runs.