Summer may be nearing its end, but the Connecticut gubernatorial race is just beginning to heat up.
The Aug. 14 primaries crowned Democrat Ned Lamont SOM ’80 and Republican Bob Stefanowski as the candidates for their respective parties. As they prepare to face off in the general election this November, early polling gives a slight lead to Lamont.
Over the past couple of weeks, universities and research firms have conducted three major polls gauging voter preference on the upcoming gubernatorial election. The polls, conducted by Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac Universities and Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, each give Lamont the edge, but the specific margins vary considerably among them, ranging from four to 13 percentage points.
“I still see this race as a toss-up, I do,” said Gary Rose, professor and chair of government at Sacred Heart and frequent Connecticut political commentator. “Right now, I think Lamont’s got a little more momentum than Stefanowski.”
Rose has no direct affiliation with Sacred Heart’s poll and says his only role is to provide commentary on its results.
The Sacred Heart poll, which surveyed 502 likely voters between Aug. 16 and Aug. 21, was the most favorable for Stefanowski. The poll reported that 40.8 percent of voters currently support Lamont and that 36.9 percent support Stefanowski, while 16.7 percent are still undecided.
The roughly 4-percent gap between Lamont and Stefanowski was within the study’s margin of error. The margin suggests that the race could end in anything from a deadlock to an eight-point victory for Lamont.
Sacred Heart works with the marketing firm Great Blue, which administers the poll.
The other two polls swing more heavily in Lamont’s favor. The Quinnipiac poll, which surveyed 1,029 registered Connecticut voters from Aug. 16 to Aug. 21, has Lamont ahead 46 percent to 33 percent, a 13-point lead well outside the study’s margin of error. This poll also found that 4 percent of those surveyed supported independent candidate Oz Griebel and 1 percent supported Libertarian Party candidate Rod Hanscomb.
Radio host and Connecticut political pundit Colin McEnroe ’76 described Quinnipiac as the “gold-standard” poll.
Like Quinnipiac, Gravis reported that Lamont leads by nine points, topping Stefanowski 49 percent to 40 percent. The poll surveyed 606 likely voters between Aug. 24 and Aug. 27.
The statistics and news website FiveThirtyEight, which rates pollsters based on their prior accuracy, rates Quinnipiac an A minus and Gravis a C plus. The website does not have a rating for Sacred Heart.
According to Rose, some of the differences between the university-conducted polls can be attributed to study design. The Sacred Heart poll interviewed likely voters, while the Quinnipiac poll interviewed registered voters, a difference that could account for some of the polling disparity, Rose noted.
Political columnist Chris Powell cautioned against taking poll results too literally.
“I think people often answer questions the way they think they’re expected to answer,” he said.
Registered independent voters, who outnumber both registered Republican and Democratic voters in Connecticut, are split between Stefanowski and Lamont. The Quinnipiac poll shows a 37 to 30 percent lead for Stefanowski among this demographic, while the Sacred Heart poll reports that both candidates received 29.8 percent of independent support.
Both polls show that around a third of registered independent voters are undecided, and Rose and McEnroe say it is too early in the race to really tell how the independent vote will break. They agree, however, that this bloc is crucial to a Republican victory come November.
“I don’t think any Republican candidate is ever going to win Connecticut if they don’t do well with the unaffiliated,” Powell said.
Stefanowski will also have to overcome a gender gap. The Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac polls report that Lamont has an advantage of about 20 points among women, a disparity Rose says Stefanowski will need to shrink by election day if he hopes to win.
“Lamont is going to win the cities, as all Democrats do. Stefanowski is going to win the rural parts of Connecticut, and the suburbs will make a difference,” Rose said. “White women in the suburbs could make the difference on behalf of Lamont.”
Quinnipiac Poll Director Douglas Schwartz noted in an Aug. 23 press release that accompanied the poll that Lamont’s support among women, along with Connecticut’s leftward skew over the past few decades, were driving his double-digit lead.
McEnroe, however, cautioned against this way of thinking, saying a candidate’s goal is to get elected — not to win any particular demographic.
He also advised against reading into difficulties candidates may face this early in the race.
“One poll is kind of useless to me,” he said. “Three Quinnipiac polls in a row is what you need to see.”
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org