Even after decades-high inflation, pandemic, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a new poll commissioned by CT Examiner suggests a close race for governor in Connecticut that mirrors the results four years ago between Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski.
In a three-way contest, Gov. Ned Lamont leads Bob Stefanowski 46% to 40%, with 5% opting for Independent Party candidate Rob Hotaling, and 10% undecided according to the nonpartisan poll released on Saturday.
The CT Examiner/Fabrizio, Lee & Associates poll, conducted on Oct. 10-13, surveyed 1,200 likely voters and has a margin of error of +/- 2.8%.
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The numbers suggest a significantly tighter race, and greater voter familiarity with Stefanowski, than an earlier poll by Quinnipiac University of 1,911 likely voters, taken on Sept. 15-19, which did not include Hotaling.
“Clearly, the economy is the thing that people care about and it’s the thing they’re noticing,” said Steven Moore, a professor of political science at Wesleyan University.
The CT Examiner/Fabrizio, Lee & Associates data shows that 24% of likely voters identify inflation as the most important issue in determining their choice for governor, followed by jobs/economy at 14% and abortion at 11%.
“Inflation and general pessimism about the state of the economy creates some real headwinds for Democrats, and that extends into a state like Connecticut,” said Wesleyan Prof. Logan Dancey.
Dancey told CT Examiner that the results for the governor’s race was about what he would have expected.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Lamont outperforms what he did in 2018,” said Dancey.
Paul Herrnson, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut, said Lamont’s lead over Stefanowski, if sustained, would actually be a “big victory” given the pandemic and the economy “not doing that well.”
“People’s lives have been massively disrupted, and if you are president, or the governor of [the] state, you’re the lightning rod for people’s displeasure,” said Herrnson.
Onotse Omoyeni, press secretary for the Lamont campaign, said that the polling showed that Stefanowski’s positions on social issues was having a negative effect on the Republican’s popularity.
“The Governor remains laser-focused on working to grow Connecticut’s economy, providing relief for Connecticut families, and getting our fiscal house in order,” said Omoyeni in a statement to CT Examiner. “As has been clear throughout this race, Bob’s extreme anti-choice and anti-gun safety positions – coupled with his constant negativity – continue to turn voters against his candidacy.”
But Stefanowski said in a statement that the poll results were good news for his campaign, and reflected the increased support for his candidacy.
“This survey demonstrates the momentum I’ve been feeling on the ground for weeks. Governor Lamont has had four years to fix the state and he’s failed. Higher taxes are making inflation worse, people feel less safe, and our state economy is tanking,” Stefanowski told CT Examiner. “More people every day realize that one-party rule is failing us and it’s time for a change. Laura Devlin and I have detailed plans to make CT more affordable and safe on Day One and we are looking forward to the final weeks of this race.”
According to the new poll, President Joe Biden’s approve/disapprove among Connecticut likely voters mirrors national polling, at 43% approve to 53% disapprove, but Stefanowski was the choice of just 70% of those negative respondents.
The latest polls also suggest that few likely voters are splitting their ballots, at least on the state and national levels, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal leading challenger Leora Levy by a margin of just 5 points, 49% to 44% with 7% undecided – numbers that surprised Dancey.
“I would’ve expected a bigger lead for Blumenthal,” said Dancey.
Ty McEachern, spokesperson for Sen. Blumenthal’s campaign, said that Blumenthal would continue to push forward.
“Senator Blumenthal is working to be Connecticut’s choice for the Senate while his opponent is Donald Trump’s choice,” McEachern said in a statement. “As always, he’s focused on his job, delivering results for the people of Connecticut. He will continue to work like he’s 10 points behind.”
According to Dancey, the close numbers for the senate race may tip further in Blumenthal’s favor as people “tuned in” to what was going on.
Leora Levy’s campaign said that the numbers reflect Levy’s popularity among voters.
“It took until mid-October, but finally a public survey reflects the reality of this race: Leora Levy is in a margin-of-error, neck-and-neck race with Dick Blumenthal, a career politician with a thirty-seven-year head start. Dick Blumenthal is under 50 percent despite spending more than $5.3 million dollars on advertising since the middle of June,” said Tim Saler, spokesperson for the Levy campaign, in a statement.
Herrnson said that he was also struck by how many voters said abortion was the most important issue, given the usual prominence of economic issues.
“I don’t always like to quote the Clinton campaign, but ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ And economics are almost always at the top of voters’ concerns,” said Herrnson. “For abortion to be so close to jobs and the economy — that’s a pretty big issue.”
Moore said he, too, hadn’t expected abortion to be as big of an issue in Connecticut because of the state’s liberal abortion laws. But looking at the polling data, he said that abortion appeared to be a bigger issue for Democrats than for Republican voters in this race.
“It was clear that the pro-life vote actually was much more likely to say that they were concerned about the economy,” said Moore.
Even if abortion is not the deciding issue for many voters, according the new polling, women likely voters overwhelming prefer Lamont, 55% to 36%, and Blumenthal 56% to 36%.
Asked whether it was possible for any gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut to win by double digits as suggested in last month’s polling, given the current polarization, Moore said that as the election approaches, voters tended to “come home” to vote for their preferred political parties.
“Enhanced polarization to some degree thwarts accountability,” said Moore. “You really don’t have to make a case based on your record. You just need to make a case based on not being the other person.”
It’s the first election poll sponsored by the nearly four-year-old online news startup CT Examiner. The nonpartisan poll was conducted by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, an Alexandria, VA-based pollster with a who’s who list of corporate and Republican clients. Fabrizio has previously served as chief pollster for 5 presidential campaigns and in 2017 was awarded “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association of Political Consultants.