(Updated 12:21 p.m.) The 2014 gubernatorial election is 17 months away, but if it were held today Republican Tom Foley would beat Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy 43 to 40 percent, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

Of the 1,154 registered voters surveyed, 46 percent don’t believe Malloy deserves to win re-election, while 44 percent say he does. Voters are split 47-47 percent when it comes to Malloy’s approval and they are also split 43-43 percent on his handling of education. When it comes to his handling of the state budget, Malloy does worse with only 35 percent approving and 55 percent disapproving.

But there is good news for Malloy. Voters believe 57-35 percent that he has strong leadership qualities. “No doubt due to his response to various crises in the state from Hurricane Sandy to the Newtown shootings,” Douglas Schwartz, Quinnipiac University poll director, said.

“Since he has been governor, he has struggled with tepid job approval ratings, never rising above 50 percent,” Schwartz said in a press release. “So it is not surprising that in our first poll on the 2014 gubernatorial election, ‘Mid-40s Malloy’ runs neck and neck with his 2010 opponent, Tom Foley. Foley gave him a run for his money in 2010, losing by less than one percentage point.”

In 2010, Foley lost to Malloy by a slim 6,404 votes after a recount of some of the ballots, which delayed Malloy’s transition into the governor’s office.

“Foley leads among independent voters, a key swing group, by 21 points,” Schwartz said. “The reason this race is close is because Democrats outnumber Republicans in Connecticut.”

However, it’s worth mentioning that 80 percent of the voters surveyed were white and only 7 percent were black and 6 percent were Hispanic. Malloy did well in the cities where a majority of the population belongs to minority groups and Foley did better in the suburbs and rural areas.

“Foley won the white vote last time. The non-white vote went for Malloy in the exit polls,” Schwartz said. He said the data in the poll is weighted using U.S. Census figures.

But Foley isn’t the only Republican thinking about running for governor.

He leads the Republican primary pack with 36 percent, followed by state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney with 11 percent, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton with 8 percent, and House Minority Leader Larry Cafero pulls up the rear with 4 percent. Another 37 percent of voters are undecided.

Malloy would beat all the other Republican opponents by about seven percentage points if the party selected them instead of Foley.

Malloy’s team never comments on polls, except to say that it ignores them. After all, the 2010 Quinnipiac University poll had Ned Lamont beating Malloy by 3 points in the Democratic primary. Malloy handily beat Lamont in that contest.

On the Issues

Fifty-nine percent of voters surveyed don’t believe Keno, a bingo-type game of chance, should be allowed in restaurants, bars, and convenience stores. Only 35 percent approve of the last-minute maneuver used to balance the state budget. The measure is expected to bring in $3.8 million in the first year, and $27 million in the second year of the budget.

There is a large gender gap when it comes to Keno, as men say “no” by a 52-42 percent margin while women say “no” 65-28 percent. Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters all are opposed.

In 2010, the last time the Keno question was asked voters disapproved by a 70-27 percent margin.

When it comes to gun control, voters support Connecticut’s new gun-control laws 57-37 percent and 32 percent say the new regulations are about right, while 35 percent say they go too far and 27 percent say they don’t go far enough.

If gun control becomes an issue in the 2014 campaign, Malloy could come out on top, according to the poll. Forty-seven percent approve of his handling of the issue, while 44 percent disapprove.

It was the third time the poll asked the question about gun control and approval of Malloy’s position has increased since March, but so has his disapproval numbers on the issue.

By a 56-33 percent margin, voters also approve of the General Assembly’s decision to allow police not to release to the public the crime scene photos and some audio of the events in Newtown last December. But 47 percent of voters don’t believe Connecticut has done enough in response to the Newtown shooting to prevent another similar event from occurring in the future.

The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error.

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