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The race for governor of Massachusetts remains a toss-up, with Democrat Martha Coakley leading Republican Charlie Baker by 2 points (41-39), according to the results of a new WBUR tracking poll.
The survey also finds another electoral fight is tighter than expected — the question to repeal the state's casino law. The "no" vote holds a 5-point edge, with 49 percent of respondents saying they would vote to make no change in the current gaming law, and 44 percent saying they would vote to repeal it. In past polls, the "no" vote had been leading by at least 10 points.
"It looks now as though we may see a much closer race than we were looking at earlier on in the polling cycle," said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR.
In the governor's race, Baker seems to be gaining momentum among women. Coakley holds a 10-point advantage with voters in that demographic (42-32), but her lead has shrunk week after week in the WBUR tracking poll.
"It's narrowed considerably," Koczela said. "The last few election cycles have featured much bigger gaps ... for the Democratic candidates, so 10 points isn't enough to make a Democrat in Massachusetts feel comfortable."
Another cause for concern for the Coakley campaign is that more women view Coakley unfavorably than Baker — 36 percent of women said they held an unfavorable opinion of Coakley, compared to 22 percent for Baker.
But Koczela said voters seem to be looking at more than personality, and digging into the issues might offer some clues as to why this race is so tight. This week, the WBUR poll asked respondents how important a range of issues would be to their vote.
The results indicate the top two priorities are "making state government function better" and "making higher education more affordable in Massachusetts." Among voters who ranked higher education at the top of their concerns, Coakley leads Baker by 19 points.
"You'd think just looking at it, Charlie Baker's much better liked ... so why isn't he leading by a lot?" Koczela said. "[The results on issues] shows that it's not just a popularity contest. It's not just about who can spur the most economic growth. It's about a more nuanced set of issues that voters are considering."
But Coakley has less than a month to capitalize on her perceived success around issues people care about.
The poll finds the three independent candidates — Evan Falchuk, Jeff McCormick and Scott Lively — are capturing 5 percent of the vote collectively, and while that means they're not a significant threat to the two major candidates right now, with a race this tight, they could be influential on Election Day.
The WBUR survey was based on a pool of 504 likely voters polled between Oct. 1-4. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.