Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker start the general election period locked in a close race, with just 5 points separating the two Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates.
In a new WBUR tracking poll — taken in the days leading up to Tuesday's primaries — 39 percent said they would support Coakley, and 34 percent chose Baker. The independent candidates received a total of 3 percent between them; 20 percent said they were undecided.
For Coakley, the challenge ahead appears significant, based on this new data. In the latest poll, 42 percent view her favorably, and 36 percent unfavorably. This is a considerable shift even from the week before, with a 5-point drop in her favorables and a 6-point increase in her unfavorables. This marks a sudden acceleration of the slide in her favorables that has been underway since January of this year.
Baker starts the general election cycle having skated through the primary without taking major damage. In this most recent poll, 41 percent hold a favorable view of him, compared to just 17 percent unfavorable. Looking back at the WBUR polls on this race taken since January shows Baker's favorability headed in the opposite direction than his Democratic opponent.
This poll also explored several attributes of the two candidates. Voters are more likely to see Baker as both “a very likeable person” and “a strong enough leader to be Governor." Encouragingly for Baker, both unenrolled voters and registered Democrats are more likely to agree with these descriptions of him than to disagree. Coakley is much less likely to be seen positively by those outside her own party.
Looking at the demographic breakdown of the race paints a picture that will be familiar to longtime Massachusetts politics watchers. Coakley leads among women and trails among men. Closing this “gender gap” is one of the major tasks facing Baker, as he works to avoid a repeat of 2010, when his 24-point drubbing among women vs. Deval Patrick sealed his fate.
Also of interest is the influence of the state's communities of color. While the margin among white voters is very close, Coakley has opened up a very large lead among non-white voters, echoing past elections as well as national political dynamics. Baker has indicated he is going to make a push to expand beyond the traditional GOP base, however, and these margins are worth watching closely.
The tracking poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Sept. 2-7, and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Steve Koczela is the lead writer for Poll Vault and president of The MassINC Polling Group.
-- Here are the topline results:
-- And the crosstabs: