After three debates and countless campaign ads, the U.S. Senate race in Connecticut remains close, but Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy has a narrow lead over Republican Linda McMahon, according to data from The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant  poll released Thursday.

The poll found that 44 percent of likely voters say they support Murphy, compared to 38 percent backing McMahon, with 17 percent undecided. More voters have gotten a chance to see the two candidates, with three of the race’s four debates having taken place, along with a blizzard of political advertising.

“The debates have helped people make up their minds, but it’s been hard for voters to find out more than just what the candidates don’t like about each other,” said UConn Poll Director Jennifer Necci Dineen, a faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Department of Public Policy.

Murphy’s narrow lead is buoyed by his growing edge among women voters, with 50 percent saying they support him and 32 percent backing McMahon. Murphy’s lead is even more significant among college educated women, where he holds a 55 to 28 percent edge.

“When we polled on this race last month, there wasn’t much of a gender gap,” Dineen said. “The campaigns have included more of a focus on issues that are typically important to women voters, though, and that seems to be helping Murphy.”

McMahon has a notable lead among men, however, leading Murphy 45 to 37 percent among male voters. She also leads Murphy among men with college degrees, 48 to 40 percent.

Both candidates have favorability ratings that suggest the negative ads that have marked the campaign are taking their toll. McMahon is viewed favorably by 42 percent of voters and unfavorably by 39 percent, with 14 percent saying they haven’t heard enough to say how they view her.

Murphy fares slightly better, but is still a question mark for many voters. While 40 percent view him favorably and 34 percent view him unfavorably, 20 percent of voters say they either haven’t heard enough about him.

Regionally, McMahon has opened a significant lead in the traditional Republican stronghold of Fairfield County, edging Murphy 45 to 37 percent. She also leads in eastern Connecticut, but in Hartford County and the central part of the state, Murphy has double-digit leads among voters.

One factor that could play a role in the election is the popularity of President Barack Obama in Connecticut. The poll found that Obama holds a 51 to 37 percent lead in the state over Republican Mitt Romney, and that half of all likely voters expect the Democrat to win, compared to 23 percent who expect the former Massachusetts governor to prevail.

“It’s going to be interesting to see whether the president has any coattails in Connecticut,” Dineen said. “Everyone expects him to win the state, but the size of the margin could have a ripple effect on the other races, including the Senate contest.”

These findings are based on The University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll.  The sample of 574 randomly selected likely voters in Connecticut were interviewed by landline and cellular telephone between Oct. 11 and Oct. 16, 2012. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 4 percentage points for the entire sample, and larger for subgroups.

The data have been weighted by the number of adults in a household and the number of telephone numbers, land and cellular, at which adults in the household can be reached in order to equalize the chances of an individual adult being selected.  The data have also been weighted by the sex, race and level of education of the respondent based on the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census.

The University of Connecticut-Hartford Courant Poll is a joint effort between one of the nation’s top research universities and the oldest continuously published newspaper in America. The poll’s purpose is to provide unbiased opinion research into critical questions affecting both the state of Connecticut and the nation.


Download the data (PDF).