LANSING (DETROIT FREE PRESS) -- The Michigan governor's race has tightened by six points, while the gap has widened by three points in the race for the U.S. Senate, according to a new statewide poll from EPIC-MRA of Lansing.
Results from the poll, released first to the Free Press, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and their statewide media partners, show Republican Gov. Rick Snyder now leading Democratic challenger Mark Schauer 46%-43%. In May, the EPIC-MRA poll showed Snyder leading Schauer by 9 points, 47%-38%.
In the race for Michigan's open U.S. Senate seat, the new poll shows U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat, leading former Michigan Secretary of State Republican Terri Lynn Land, by 9 points, 45%-36%. The May EPIC-MRA survey showed Peters leading Land 44%-38%.
Both polls surveyed 600 likely voters using live telephone operators and have margins of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Cell phone users made up 20% of each sample.
Both races could have huge political significance: An incumbent governor has not been defeated in Michigan since 1990. And national pundits have said control of the U.S. Senate could largely hinge on the battle to fill the vacancy being created by the pending retirement of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Detroit Democrat.
"The race is clearly tightening for governor, and it could get interesting," said Bernie Porn, president of EPIC-MRA. But in the U.S. Senate race, "the Land campaign has just not performed up to the standards they need to."
The results for the governor's race, which are inside the margin of error, appear to show undecided voters breaking in favor of Schauer. The percentage of voters who said they were undecided about the race or wouldn't say whom they would support was 11% in July, down from 15% in May.
Porn said the Democratic base appears to be backing Schauer more as the election draws closer.
The percentage of undecided voters in the U.S. Senate race, however, remained high and relatively constant, with 19% undecided in July and 18% in May.
The poll shows significant gender gaps in both races: Snyder leads Schauer 51%-38% among men, but trails Schauer 47%-41% among women, the poll shows. In the U.S. Senate race, the gender gap is even wider, with Peters and Land tied 42%-42% among male voters, but Peters leading Land 47%-31% among women.
"The whole discussion of how Democrats are making better decisions in terms of women's health" appears to be impacting both races, Porn said.
Schauer's numbers have improved despite persistent low name recognition and unspectacular approval numbers.
In the new poll, conducted Saturday through Tuesday, 44% of respondents didn't recognize Schauer's name. Of those who did, 21% had a favorable impression of him and 16% had an unfavorable impression.
The poll suggests Schauer's name recognition has actually slipped since May, when only 41% of respondents said they didn't know who he was. At that time, 14% had a favorable impression of him and 17% had an unfavorable one.
The dip in Schauer's name recognition came despite a June TV ad, sponsored by the Democratic Governors Association, that focused on Schauer's views on education.
"It's clear Mark Schauer has all the momentum in this race," said his spokeswoman Cathy Bacile Cunningham. "Mark is surging, while Snyder is losing ground."
And Snyder's lead has shrunk despite an improved economic outlook among Michigan voters. Currently, 67% said they thought the state's economy has hit bottom and is improving. That was up from 62% in May.
The improved numbers for Schauer also come despite improved job-performance ratings for Snyder: In July, 44% gave Snyder a positive job-approval rating, and 55% gave him a negative rating. In May, only 41% gave Snyder a positive job rating, and 58% gave him a negative one.
Emily Benavides, a spokeswoman for the Snyder campaign, said it's significant that Schauer continues to trail despite millions spent by the Democratic Governors Association.
Citing dropping unemployment, increased spending on schools and work to address Detroit's financial crisis, "Michiganders can see the results of Gov. Snyder's leadership versus Mark Schauer's rhetoric," Benavides said.
In the U.S. Senate race, both Peters and Land continue to have relatively low name recognition, despite a crush of TV ads from outside groups. But positive impressions of Peters and negative impressions of Land have both increased.
Of those surveyed, 32% said they didn't know who Peters was, up slightly from 30% in May. But of those who did recognize his name, 27% had a favorable impression and 21% an unfavorable one. In May, Peters' favorable/unfavorable numbers were 21%-21%.
For Land, 20% of respondents didn't recognize her name, up from 16% in May. And of those who did recognize her name, 30% had a favorable impression, while 34% had an unfavorable one. In May, Land's favorable/unfavorable numbers were 28%-30%.
Both the July and May surveys were conducted after the April airing of a Land TV ad titled "Really?," which has been branded the worst political TV ad of the season by both the National Journal and Republican pollster Frank Lutz. The July survey also followed Land's public appearance at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference in late May, which was widely panned by pundits after Land threw up her hands and walked away from reporters who peppered her with questions.
"Polls will continue to vary, but this remains a very close race despite the millions of dollars of false attack ads by Harry Reid and liberal billionaire Tom Steyer who support Gary Peters because he puts Washington's interests before Michigan's interests." said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Land campaign.
Haley Morris, a spokeswoman for the Peters campaign, said "Michigan's middle-class families are excited by Gary's campaign to be the independent voice they can count on, and that's why his grassroots momentum only continues to grow."
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org