Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski during a break at a debate in 2018. The first of their two debates this year is today on NBC Connecticut. mark pazniokas /

Gov. Ned Lamont had a 15-point lead over his Republican challenger, Bob Stefanowski, buoyed by a hugely favorable gender gap among women in a Western New England University poll released Tuesday.

The poll, commissioned by Hearst Connecticut and WFSB, surveyed likely voters from Sept. 15 to 21, roughly the same period as a Quinnipiac University poll released last week with nearly identical results.

The Hearst/WFSB poll found Lamont with a 55% to 40% lead over Stefanowski among likely voters. The first-term Democratic governor broke even among male voters, 47% to 47%, and had a 30-point lead among women, 62% to 32%.

“This pattern is not unusual for women voters, but the even division among men helps to explain Lamont’s current lead,” the poll’s director, Tim Vercellotti, said in a written narrative.

Lamont had a 5-point lead among unaffiliated voters, the biggest voting bloc in Connecticut, and was favored by every age group, except those 55-64.

Lamont and Stefanowski are engaged in a rematch of the 2018 race to succeed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a two-term Democrat who did not seek reelection. But Lamont benefits this year from better name-recognition and favorability ratings.

The incumbent has agreed to only two debates this year, the first Tuesday on NBC Connecticut. It was live streamed at 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcast at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11 a.m.

Of the likely voters in the Hearst/WFSB poll, 51% expressed a favorable opinion of Lamont and 36% unfavorable. Stefanowski was underwater, with 31% favorable, 36% unfavorable and 25% with no opinion.

Six percent of likely voters and 12% of all registered voters had not heard of Stefanowski. Lamont was recognized by 99% of likely voters and 98% of all registered voters. 

Voters reported a high level of interest in the race.

“There is a gap in enthusiasm by party registration, and this disparity appears regularly in midterm election cycles. Among Republican likely voters, 84% report a lot of interest, compared to 73% for Democratic likely voters and 65% for unaffiliated likely voters,” Vercellotti said.

Quinnipiac and Western New England each went into the field on Sept. 15, with Quinnipiac concluding its calls on the 19th, two days before Western New England.

Surveying 1,911 likely voters, Quinnipiac found Lamont with a 57% to 40% lead. Its margin of error was plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.

Western New England conducted interviews with 852 adults to yield a sample of 766 people who said they were registered to vote in Connecticut and 626 who said they were likely to vote on Nov. 8.

Their sample of registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, while the margin of error for the smaller sample of likely voters is 3.9 points.

The university says it weights the results based on voter registration and census data. After weighting, the margin of error in the results for likely voters is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

Stefanowski downplayed the poll, as he did the first one.

“We are confident in our internal numbers that show a close race and trust that the good people of Connecticut who are fed up with rising taxes, increasing crime and a state headed in the wrong direction know that we can’t afford four more years of Ned Lamont,” Stefanowski said.

Lamont’s campaign said the poll reflects the governor’s record.

“The governor remains laser-focused on governing, and this poll, like the others we have seen, shows that voters of Connecticut share Gov. Lamont’s optimism and support his successful record of getting our fiscal house in order and creating long-term financial stability,” said Jake Lewis, the campaign spokesman. “Like the governor, they believe that the Connecticut comeback is just getting started and our best days are ahead of us. While Bob’s extreme anti-choice and anti-gun safety positions — coupled with constant negativity — is continuing to turn voters off.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.