Angry voters have pushed Republican Linda McMahon to within a “statistically insignificant” three percentage points of Democrat Richard Blumenthal in their tightening race for U.S. Senate, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
In a survey of likely voters, Blumenthal leads 49 percent to 46 percent over the first-time, self-financed candidate for Senate. In a Quinnipiac poll two weeks ago, he led 51 percent to 45 percent in the race to succeed the retiring five-term Democrat, Christopher J. Dodd.
Blumenthal’s lead is within the poll’s margin of error for the first time, giving him what the poll’s director describes as a “statistically insignificant” lead with exactly five weeks until Election Day and a week before the first of three debates with McMahon.
“He can hear her footsteps as she closes in on him,” said Douglas Schwartz, the poll’s director.
A Rasmussen Reports’ survey released yesterday had Blumenthal leading 50 percent to 45 percent. Apparently anticipating bad news today, his campaign released internal polling last night that has Blumenthal up 52 percent to 40 percent.
In all the polls, he is hovering around 50 percent, despite 20 years as a popular and well-regarded attorney general whose job-approval rating in the new Quinnipiac poll is an impressive 68 percent, an overwhelming advantage in other election years.
But McMahon is riding the most expensive television advertising campaign ever seen in Connecticut and is tapping into deep voter anger with the federal government. Among voters who describe themselves as angry, McMahon leads, 78 percent to 20 percent.
“McMahon clearly is capitalizing on the anger that one-third of voters are feeling toward the federal government,” Schwartz said.
Veins of voter discontent run throughout the poll.
President Obama’s approval rating is only 45 percent among all voters and drops to 38 percent among unaffiliated voters. Voters are split 37 percent to 37 percent on that most visible symbol of animosity toward Washington, the Tea Party. But unaffiliated voters view the movement favorably, 41 percent to 33 percent.
The poll also found McMahon with significant vulnerabilities as she pours her personal fortune into an effort to become the first Republican since Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in 1982 to win a Senate seat in Connecticut.
The former World Wrestling Entertainment executive is seen favorably by 42 percent of voters and unfavorably by 43 percent, compared to 51 percent to 41 percent for Blumenthal.
She also faces the possible beginnings of a backlash from voters tired of her saturation advertising. Of the 95 percent of likely voters who have seen her ads, 56 percent say they are annoying and 40 percent say they are informative.
“As McMahon has flooded the airwaves, many voters are saying, ‘Enough already!’” Schwartz said.
McMahon has put at least $24 million of her money into the campaign and is expected to eventually spend $50 million, breaking the previous record for a Connecticut campaign by $30 million.
Among all voters, 54 percent say her combined blitz of commercials and direct mail is excessive, while 37 percent say it is about right. According to a Wesleyan University study, McMahon has aired three commercials for every one of Blumenthal’s since she won the GOP primary in August.
Of the 87 percent who have seen Blumenthal’s TV ads, 54 percent find them informative and 42 percent say they are annoying. His level of advertising has been about right to 49 percent, while 33 percent say he hasn’t advertised enough and 11 percent call it excessive.
Despite efforts to appeal to women, McMahon also suffers from a wide gender gap. Women favor Blumenthal, 56 percent to 39 percent, but men favor McMahon, 52 percent to 44 percent.
“There continues to be a big gender gap, as we’ve seen in other states such a New York and Pennsylvania. Women are going with the Democrat and men are siding with the Republican,” Schwartz said.
The gender gap also shows up in views of the Democratic president. Women approve of the job he is doing, 52 percent to 44 percent, while men disapprove, 57 percent to 38 percent.
Blumenthal’s campaigning with Bill Clinton on Sunday was a good call. The former president is viewed favorably by all voters, 65 percent to 30 percent. And he remains a hit with the Democratic base, 93 percent to 4 percent.
On the other hand, McMahon also is doing the right thing by not seeking help from Sarah Palin. She is viewed unfavorably in Connecticut, 57 percent to 30 percent. Even Republican support for Palin is a relatively tepid 53 percent.
The poll is based on a random-digit telephone survey of 1,083 residents, who were screened for their interest in the race and their likelihood of voting. It was conducted from Sept. 21 to 26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Blumenthal and McMahon to debate three times
Two of the three debates will be televised live.
Oct. 4, 7 p.m.: Courant/Fox61 televised debate at The Bushnell in Hartford.
Oct. 7, 9 a.m.: Business forum to be taped and televised by Cablevision 12 the Continental Manor in Norwalk.
Oct. 12, 7 p.m.: The Day/WTNH televised debate at The Garde Center for the Arts, New London.
Tickets are required for all three debates. Shut out of the forums are two minor-party candidates, John Mertens and Warren Mosler.