Quinnipiac University’s first survey of the Connecticut governor’s race in four months found Republican Tom Foley leading first-term Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by 6 percentage points among likely voters with eight weeks remaining in their campaign.
In a poll released Wednesday, Foley led Malloy, 46 percent to 40 percent, with petitioning candidate Joe Visconti favored by 7 percent. Visconti, a Republican opponent of gun control, did not change the basic dynamic of the race: Without him in the mix, Foley still led by 6 points, 49 percent to 43 percent.
“In our first likely voter poll, Tom Foley has the edge, but Gov. Dannel Malloy is certainly within striking distance,” said Douglas Schwartz, director of the poll. “Foley has a double-digit lead among the key swing group, independent voters. With eight weeks until Election Day, there are six percent undecided and another 30 percent who say they could change their mind.”
Foley led 82 percent to 9 percent among Republicans, while Malloy led 77 percent to 10 percent among Democrats. Unaffiliated voters favored Foley, 48 to 35 percent.
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Foley, 62, a Greenwich businessman who is the GOP nominee for the second time in four years, is the beneficiary of a perception that he can better handle the state’s economic recovery and control state spending than the 59-year-old Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford and the first Democratic governor of Connecticut in a generation.
The economy and jobs were the top issue for 40 percent of likely voters, followed by government spending (19 percent) and taxes (16 percent.)
“Foley leads Malloy in large part because he is viewed by most voters as better able to handle pocketbook issues. Voters think Foley is better able than Malloy to handle their top issue – the economy and jobs. Foley also has big leads on taxes and government spending, while Malloy has small leads on gun policy and education,” Schwartz said.
Most alarming for Democrats is likely to be the overall unfavorable rating voters have of Malloy after nearly four years in office. Only 40 percent have a favorable opinion, while 53 percent view him unfavorably — and 40 percent of all voters said their opinion was “strongly unfavorable.”
Key questions for the governor: How many persuadable voters remain? And how does he reach them?
“It is tough for a well-known incumbent to change voter opinion once formed,” Schwartz said. “In contrast, only 33 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Foley.” Forty-two percent view Foley favorably.
Visconti is unknown to 89 percent of voters.
By significant margins, Malloy is seen as trustworthy and and possessing strong leadership qualities, but only by a narrow margin do voters say the incumbent cares about their needs and problems, 48 percent to 46 percent.
The poll found a strong gender gap. Women backed Malloy, 45 percent to 38 percent. Men favored Foley, 54 percent to 35 percent.
Fifty-seven percent of voters say Foley, who never has held elective office, has the right experience to be governor. Among unaffiliated voters, the biggest bloc of voters in Connecticut, the number was 59 percent.
Regardless of whom they supported, voters were asked which candidate would do a better job on key issues.
Malloy was seen as better on education, 46 percent to 40 percent, and guns, 46 percent to 41 percent. The governor was a strong backer of the gun control law passed after the Newtown school massacre, while Foley says he would sign a repeal bill if passed.
Foley was favored on the economy and jobs, 54 percent to 37 percent, and taxes, 59 percent to 31 percent. When asked who would be best in preserving necessary state spending and eliminating unnecessary, voters favored Foley, 54 percent to 36 percent.
Two previous Quinnipac polls had Malloy and Foley in dead heats, but those polls are dated and they were conducted with a slightly different methodology. Unlike the older polls, the new survey screens for likely voters. Schwartz cautions that they cannot be directly compared.
Quinnipiac has reduced its Connecticut polling this cycle. Four years ago, its first September poll was the seventh of 11 polls of the 2010 race. This poll was the third of 2014.
The poll is based on a telephone survey of 1,304 voters conducted from September 3 to 8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.