For the first time in the WBUR weekly tracking poll, Republican Charlie Baker is leading Democrat Martha Coakley in the race to become the next governor of Massachusetts.
Even though Baker's lead over Coakley is tiny — 1 percentage point, 43-42 — and well within the poll's 4.4-percentage-point margin of error, Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducts WBUR's surveys, says it's significant.
"It's one of several polls which over the last week or so have shown a movement toward Baker," he said. "Coakley has essentially been treading water while Baker's been climbing."
Baker’s support has grown across a wide range of groups, primarily men, unenrolled voters and higher-income folks.
At the same time, the WBUR survey shows Coakley has failed to muster support among key groups, such as registered Democrats.
"[Her support with Democrats] has been stuck at 66 or 67 percent going all the way back to early August, and it's still at 66 percent this week," Koczela said.
The other important shift this election season is geographic, not demographic.
In Massachusetts statewide elections, Democrats normally win cities by lopsided margins margins, which, on the surface, would suggest the Republican candidate is at a numerical disadvantage.
But Baker has campaigned heavily in urban hubs, visiting Boston alone more than 150 times, according to his campaign, trying to loosen that Democratic grip.
Pollster Koczela says Baker doesn't need to win all the cities in the state; he merely needs to shrink the usual Democratic blowout.
And so far it seems his visits are paying off. Koczela analyzed poll results in Boston and other urban hubs across the state (the 26 Gateway Cities), dating back to the beginning of the WBUR tracking poll, and he discovered that Baker has shrunk a 21-point Coakley lead down to 9 points. This is important, Koczela says, because when Coakley lost the U.S. Senate race in 2010 against Scott Brown, she won cities by only 9 points (54-45). Compare that to Elizabeth Warren's 2012 victory against Brown, when she won cities by 28 points (63-35).
"Going into recent elections, the question's been, 'Can a Republican win? ' " Koczela said. "If [Baker] wins, we're looking at the playbook for how a Republican does it in Massachusetts."
In addition to the governor's race, the WBUR poll also asked likely voters for their views on two of the November ballot questions — repealing the casino law and mandating sick time.
There were no substantial changes on either issue, compared with earlier WBUR polling.
On the casino question, the "no" vote, which would maintain the current gaming law, leads 53-38.
And for earned sick time, the "yes" vote, which would entitle employees to earn and use sick time, leads 54-31.
The telephone survey of 501 likely voters was conducted Oct. 15-18. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.