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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley holds a 7-point lead over Republican rival Charlie Baker, according to the latest WBUR weekly tracking poll.
The 41-34 edge is roughly the same size advantage Coakley has held in hypothetical match-ups against Baker in recent weeks. (Coakley's lead grows to 9 points after undecided respondents were asked to clarify which gubernatorial candidate they lean toward.)
The WBUR poll is the first survey conducted in the wake of the Massachusetts primary elections. The telephone poll of 504 likely voters has a 4.4 percent margin of error.
The previous two WBUR surveys showed Coakley with similar leads over Baker — 5 points and, before that, 9 points. The margins suggest the race remains largely unchanged, even with a rise in media coverage and negative political ads following the September primaries.
In spite of Coakley's consistent lead, Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR, said in reality, the race is extraordinarily close.
"If you look at the candidate favorables, Charlie Baker is actually better liked than Martha Coakley," Koczela said. "And, that's important because ... if you have one candidate who's better liked and slightly behind it appears to show they have more room to grow."
The poll suggests Baker needs to grow the most with women voters. Past Massachusetts elections have shown women consistently tilt the balance of power at the ballot box.
In the new WBUR poll, Coakley holds a 20-point advantage over Baker among women, 47-27.
One woman contributing to that gender gap is poll respondent Margery Williams, a 61-year-old self-proclaimed "liberal" from Somerville.
"I would never under any circumstances support a Republican," she said.
But beyond partisan politics, Williams is also drawn to Coakley individually. "I'd like to have a woman as a governor," she added. "Yes, she made a campaign mistake last time [in the 2010 Senate race], but weren't the people of Massachusetts wrong to judge her so harshly for that?"
Regardless of whether poll respondents say they support Coakley or Baker, their overarching voting priorities seem to align.
"Often times you think it's somebody that shares my positions or somebody who shares my values, somebody who I agree with on political issues," Koczela said. "In this case ... it does look like voters are looking for someone who can manage state government effectively."
That desire for an "effective manager" is one reason poll respondent Linda Miller, a semi-retired registered nurse and attorney from Quincy, said she's backing for Baker in November.
"You know, I usually vote Democratic," she said, explaining that in the party primary she voted for state Treasurer Steve Grossman, but she's not "happy" with Coakley. "And I've been listening to the television and everything and I sort of think Charlie Baker could do a good job cause he's really from corporate America," she said.
The survey shows the three independent candidates — Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively — are failing to gain traction with voters. Collectively, they do not even register 4 percent of the vote in the WBUR poll.
And while voters prepare to elect a new governor this November, the WBUR survey also finds them critical of the current officeholder. While 47 percent of respondents continue to hold a "favorable" opinion of Gov. Deval Patrick, a majority (60-32) say he should have done a better job handling recent problems the state has faced, like the drug lab crisis, the troubled state health insurance website and the under-fire Department of Children and Families.
"I think it is part of why voters are looking to turn the page and why they're looking specifically for a manager, rather than someone who, you know, specifically speaks to the inner recesses of their soul," Koczela, the pollster, said.
Another key takeaway from the WBUR poll is the consistent lead casino proponents hold regarding the November ballot measure to repeal the state's gaming law.
Fifty-two percent of respondents say they would vote "no" and maintain the current casino law, while 41 percent say they would vote to repeal it.
The poll was conducted by The MassINC Polling Group from Sept. 11-14.
General Election Topline Results:
This segment aired on September 17, 2014.