(Updated 1:02 p.m.) Women and older voters are shifting their support away from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon giving Democrat Chris Murphy a 49 to 43 percent lead among likely voters in the latest Quinnipiac University poll .
The poll released Wednesday morning shows Murphy with a 14 point lead among women voters, which is up from 6 points in the Oct. 4 poll.
Voters over the age of 55 have also moved toward Murphy opening up a 9 point lead for him among older voters. The two had been evenly split among older voters in the Oct. 4 poll.
“It’s deja vu all over again in the Connecticut Senate race,” Doug Schwartz, Quinnipiac University poll director, said. “As we hit the final stretch of the campaign, Linda McMahon is beginning to fade, as she did in her 2010 run against Richard Blumenthal.”
In 2010 McMahon’s numbers never topped 43 percent.
“Has she hit her ceiling? She took 43 percent of the vote in 2010, losing by 12 points to Blumenthal. Two weeks before the election, she is back at 43 percent,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said the momentum swing toward Murphy had nothing to do with his performance in the four televised debates. He said two-thirds of voters were not swayed in their opinion about either candidate by the debates.
The poll found Connecticut voters believe Murphy understands their economic problems better than McMahon and 55 percent of voters say McMahon would favor the wealthy over the middle class. Social Security and Medicare have also become big issues in the race, which benefits Murphy more than it does McMahon, who wouldn’t even talk about them in 2010.
After the final debate last week McMahon declined to talk about how she would protect Social Security because it would be “demagogued.” Earlier in the race, a video surfaced of McMahon saying she would like to have a “sunset provision” on the program so it will be reviewed after a certain period of time. Social Security is reviewed annually.
“Murphy has taken the lead in the Senate race in part because more voters now believe he understands their economic problems better than McMahon,” Schwartz said.
But voters still have a mixed opinion of Murphy, who wasn’t well known to voters outside the 5th Congressional District where he served three terms. McMahon had worked hard on her image this year and her favorability rating had improved over the course of the campaign, but took a hit in the recent poll.
McMahon received a negative 41 – 47 percent favorability in the latest poll, down from a 45 – 41 percent positive October 4.
“One of McMahon’s key strengths had been that voters liked her more than Murphy,” Schwartz said. “Voters are evenly divided on Murphy but have a net negative opinion of McMahon. After improving her image from two years ago, her favorability rating has fallen back to about where she was in 2010.”
But McMahon’s campaign believes the race is much closer than the results of the Quinnipiac University poll show.
“Yesterday two respected national polling firms, Rasmussen and Mason-Dixon, showed the Connecticut Senate race is a dead heat,“ Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager, said. “We know that Linda’s message is resonating with voters across Connecticut. We have the momentum and energy behind our campaign to win. Democrats and Independents are making up their minds to vote for Linda – Rasmussen showed Independents supporting Linda 2-to-1.”
In a phone interview with reporters, McMahon Pollster John McLaughlin, said the Quinnipiac University poll under sampled Republican voters. The poll, which is not weighted for party affiliation, used a sample of 21 percent Republicans, 35 percent Democrats and 40 percent of unaffiliated voters.
“Republicans are coming out this year, they’re not staying home,” McLaughlin told reporters. He pointed to higher samples of Republicans being used by Rasmussen and the Mason-Dixon poll which was released Tuesday and showed Murphy and McMahon in a statistical dead heat.
By lowering the Republican sample McLaughlin argues that Quinnipiac is skewing its results toward the Democratic candidate.
But the percent of Republicans isn’t much different from previous Quinnipiac University polls of likely voters. The Oct. 4 poll which showed Murphy and McMahon within one point of each other included a sample of 23 percent Republicans, 34 percent Democrats, and 38 percent unaffiliated voters.
McLaughlin admitted that his internal polling for the campaign does share some similarities to Quinnipiac’s poll which shows McMahon leading independent voters by 9 points. He said his numbers are similar, but his poll has his candidate up by one point, not down by six points like Wednesday’s poll.
He said the major glaring inconsistency in the poll is the under sampling of Republicans.
In his visit to the Capitol press room, Schwartz defended the poll and said the organization stands by its record of accuracy. He said in 2010 their Nov. 1 poll had McMahon trailing Blumenthal by 9 points and she ended up losing by 12 points “so we stand by our record for accuracy.”
McLaughlin also criticized the way in which Quinnipiac conducts its polling. He alleged that “random digit dialing” may be cheaper than buying a likely voter list, but it’s less accurate.
Schwartz defended random digit dialing method because it allows the polling institute to reach voters on their cell phones. He said registered voter lists tend to miss cell phones. He said they also call the same voter back up to four times in order to make it convenient for them and to ensure their demographic sample is diverse.
Toward the end of the conference call with reporters, McLaughlin admitted he’s concerned about the poll’s narrative too after reading the headlines this morning and listening to the radio.
He said generally if an election is close voter turnout tends to be higher, but headlines like the ones he saw today could suppress voter turnout for McMahon.
“I’ve got a poll that says we’re a point up, and other polls say we’re dead even,” McLaughlin said. “If we lose 10 percent of our support because they think we’re going to lose, we could lose the election.”
Schwartz defended his narrative and pointed to the dip in McMahon’s favorability ratings as a sign that she seems to be fading. He said in order to overcome the Democratic party advantage in the state McMahon needs to lead independent voters by more than 9 points.
He said McMahon was beginning to overcome the Democratic Party advantage in Connecticut because of her higher favorability ratings.
“They liked her more than they liked Murphy, but now that’s switched,” Schwartz said.
The poll also found that President Barack Obama has opened a wider 14 point lead over Republican Gov. Mitt Romney among Connecticut voters. Two months ago, Romney had closed Obama’s lead in the Nutmeg state to seven points, but women seem to be boosting his numbers too.
Obama leads 60 – 36 percent among women and gets 49 percent of men to Romney’s 46 percent. Obama leads among every subgroup except Republicans, the poll found.
The poll of 1,412 likely voters has a 2.6 percent margin of error and was conducted between Oct. 19-22.