MONTPELIER — Republican Phil Scott and Democrat Sue Minter are locked in a tie race for governor with three weeks to go and 14 percent of voters undecided, according to a Vermont Public Radio poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute released Wednesday.
According to the poll results, Scott, the incumbent lieutenant governor, has a 1 percentage point lead over Sue Minter, a former secretary of the Agency of Transportation — 39 percent to 38 percent. Liberty Union candidate Bill Lee, a former pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, received 2 percent support. But 14 percent of the likely voters polled said they have yet to make up their mind.
The poll of 650 likely voters has a 3.8 percent margin of error and includes live interviews from a mix of cell and land line phones. The survey took place between Sept. 29 and Oct. 14 — before popular U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Minter and hits the campaign trail on her behalf this weekend.
A Scott campaign official said the VPR results show a closer race than the campaign’s own internal polling, but declined to share those results.
Scott fared better among the likely voters on economic issues. Asked who they trust to handle the economy and jobs, voters chose Scott over by Minter by a 41 percent to 28 percent margin. The response was similar on the issue of the state budget and taxes — 42 percent to 28 percent in Scott’s favor.
But Minter polled better on education and the environment. When respondents were asked who they trust most to handle the environment and clean energy issues, Minter outpaced Scott 40 percent to 29 percent. And voters prefer Minter over Scott on handling K-12 education by a 38 percent to 31 percent margin.
Scott fared 9 percentage points better among men, while Minter polled 7 percentage points better with women.
“It is a very positive takeaway from our perspective that pocketbook issues are the most important to Vermonters and voters trust Phil by the largest margins on issues related to jobs and the economy, taxes and spending and addressing the cost of living in Vermont,” Scott campaign spokesman Ethan Latour said. “Nonetheless, this poll shows what we expected all along — this election will be very competitive going into November.”
The poll provides each candidate with reasons for both optimism and concern.
Results indicate that voters casting their ballots for Scott are also willing to vote for Democratic candidates on the ballot. Other Democrats on the ballot are leading their Republican opponents by significant margins.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has a comfortable lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump — 45 percent to 17 percent. David Zuckerman, the Progressive and Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, is also well-ahead of Republican Randy Brock — 43 percent to 26 percent. T.J. Donovan, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, out-polled Republican Deb Bucknam by a wide margin — 54 percent to 12 percent.
And incumbent Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy appears to be cruising to an eighth, six-year term. He holds a commanding lead over Republican Scott Milne — 59 percent to 22 percent.
Scott is also enjoying a significant advantage among independent voters. Among those who do identify with a political party, Scott is outpacing Minter by a 54 percent to 12 percent margin. And 24 percent of independents have yet to make up their mind.
While Scott is faring better among independents, the large number of undecided voters in that group could present an opportunity to pick up support. Sanders, who won the state’s March presidential primary with 86 percent of the vote over Clinton, could be a huge asset. Sanders offered his endorsement to Minter last week and is scheduled to attend six campaign events with her this weekend. Sanders could provide the edge Minter needs in such a tight race.
The poll also found widespread support for implementing background checks on all gun sales. According to the results, 84 percent of Vermonters, including 74 percent of Republicans, favor background checks for gun sales at stores, guns shows and for private sales. Just 12 percent of respondents were opposed.
The gun issue could be a winner for Minter, who has advocated for universal background checks. Scott has been staunchly opposed to any changes to gun laws in Vermont.
Minter’s campaign sought to focus on Sanders’ involvement in the campaign in its statement about the poll, which did not mention the poll.
“The Republican Governors Association has poured nearly $2 million into this race to try to buy this election for Phil Scott. It’s not working because Sue has real plans to create livable wage jobs, make college more affordable and pass paid family leave,” spokesman Elliott Bent said. “Sue looks forward to hitting the campaign trail this weekend with Senator Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic ticket.”
This story was updated at 2 p.m. to include additional information and comments.