Christine Stuart photo

According to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and challenger Tom Foley, his 2010 gubernatorial opponent, are still deadlocked at 43-43 percent.

But voters were split on two key questions. Malloy’s job approval rating remains favorable at 48-46 percent, while 4 percent more voters (48-44 percent) thought he didn’t deserve to be re-elected. Meanwhile, Foley leads five other Republican candidates going into next week’s conventions.

The poll released Friday found that in hypothetical match-ups against the other Republicans, Malloy edges out Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton with 44 percent of the vote. In that hypothetical match-up, McKinney receives 40 and Boughton receives 39 percent of the vote. Malloy beats the rest of the lesser known Republican candidates by 8 to 10 percentage points.

Like previous polls, 60 percent of voters believe the $55 tax refund Malloy had planned to give back to taxpayers, and then cancelled when revenues dropped off, was a “campaign gimmick.” At the same time, about 67 percent said it is “fair to return some share of state revenue to taxpayers” when the state has its fiscal house in order.

“The good news for Gov. Malloy is that the negative headlines about his cancellation of the $55 per person tax refund does not seem to affect his overall approval rating or his standing in the governor’s race,” Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz said. “The bad news is that almost all the Republicans are within single digits of Malloy, with Foley tied and Boughton and McKinney on his heels.”

About 48 percent of voters say Malloy is doing a good job in office, while 46 disapprove of the way he’s handling his job. Another 48 percent say he doesn’t deserve to get re-elected, compared to 44 percent who say he should be re-elected. Voters’ top complaint, according to the poll, was his handling of the budget.

Malloy defended his budget Thursday at a press conference with reporters, but rather than argue that his budget has fewer gimmicks than those of his predecessors, he maintained that it was the first budget in 20 years that is “compliant” with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. That’s despite sweeping $7.5 million from the amount of money the state needs to fully-fund the future GAAP deficit when the initiative is fully implemented.

Meanwhile, the poll found 53 percent of voters disapprove of the way Malloy is handling the budget, while 35 percent approve.

In an open-ended question, allowing for any answer, 18 percent of those who disapprove of the job Malloy is doing cite taxes as the main reason, while another 18 percent list the state budget or finances, and 13 percent cite the economy or jobs.

Among those who approve of the job Malloy is doing, 13 percent cited his good job as governor and 9 percent list the state budget or finances.

Only 21 percent of voters say they are personally better off than they were four years ago while 30 percent say they are worse off, and 48 percent say they are about the same. The $1.5 billion tax hike Malloy signed three years ago to close the budget deficit hurt the state economy, 32 percent of voters say, while 21 percent say it helped and 39 percent say it made no difference.

Looking at Malloy’s character, 59-36 percent of Connecticut voters said that he has strong leadership qualities, 57-33 percent said that he is honest and trustworthy, and 49-45 percent said that he cares about their needs and problems.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

“Economic issues are dragging Gov. Malloy down,” Schwartz said. “A bright spot for Malloy is that voters think he has strong leadership qualities and is honest and trustworthy.”

Despite those qualities, Schwartz said voter responses to key questions put Malloy in a vulnerable position heading into this election season.

“It’s always considered a danger sign—it’s considered, if you’re below 50 percent on key measures like job approval, favorability, re-elect, that you’re vulnerable. [Malloy’s] definitely vulnerable, the question is can Republicans take advantage of it?” Schwartz told reporters Friday.

In a statement, state Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola said Connecticut voters want to see a change.

“Dan Malloy has proven that the only way he knows how to balance a budget is with the largest tax increases in state history and cheap gimmicks. But our commonsense Republican leaders know that you can’t tax, borrow, and spend your way to prosperity. The only way to fix Connecticut’s ailing economy is by electing a pro-growth Republican governor this November,” he said.

Labriola said Connecticut’s economy has languished under Malloy as Republican governors in other states have moved their economies toward “real recovery.

However, Schwartz pointed to some Republican governor’s seeking re-election who are facing similar approval ratings. Schwartz said he believed Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett have had worse numbers than Malloy’s on job approval.

Although Malloy’s approval numbers consistently lagging Schwartz said the governor could take a degree of solace in the fact that his numbers remain steady despite a flurry of negative headlines at the time the poll was being conducted.

“It seems like the people that like him, they know they like him and they’re pretty much standing behind him. But it’s not over 50 percent and he needs over 50 percent,” he said.

With about six months until the election, there is still some time for public opinion to shift on Malloy and other candidates.

“There’s plenty of time for movement. Right now people seem to be pretty locked in but there’s still a small slice of the electorate that’s going to make the difference that will be affected by debates and ads and those things,” he said.

The poll surveyed 1,668 registered voters from May 1-6 and it has a 2.4 percent margin of error.

Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report