Quinn gains on Brady in new Tribune poll

Governor leads Republican 39% to 38% compared with Brady's 4-percentage point lead of a month ago

Friday, October 01, 2010

Republican Bill Brady's early advantage in the Illinois governor race has evaporated as voters have gotten to know him a bit better and grown to like Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn a bit more, a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll found.

Quinn has hammered his lesser-known downstate opponent with TV attack ads asking "Who is this guy?" and the poll indicates the strategy is paying dividends. Quinn scored 39 percent to 38 percent for Brady. The poll's 4-percentage-point margin of error means the race is neck and neck with little more than a month left before the Nov. 2 election.

A pre- Labor Day Tribune survey had Brady leading Quinn 37 percent to 32 percent. But in the last four weeks, Quinn's abysmal job approval rating improved a little, and voters view him slightly more favorably than a month ago. And the governor is attracting more support from traditionally key sources of Democratic vote, particularly in Chicago and among African-American voters.

On the other hand, Brady's numbers flipped and he is now liked and disliked by about the same percentage of voters, though more than a third say they still haven't formed an opinion about the veteran state senator. Brady, who hails from a prominent Bloomington homebuilding family, continues to trounce Quinn downstate, though his lead in the collar counties has disappeared.

The other three governor candidates aren't attracting much support so far, according to the survey of 600 registered likely voters conducted last Friday through Tuesday. Independent Scott Lee Cohen, who won the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination in February before dropping out amid damaging personal disclosures, scored 4 percent. Green Party candidate Rich Whitney polled 3 percent and Libertarian candidate Lex Green had 2 percent.

Overall, the results show that while Quinn remains unpopular, particularly outside the Chicago area, the governor's efforts to paint Brady as out of touch may have begun to resonate among Democratic voters.

In early September, Quinn had the backing of only 56 percent of voters who said they were Democrats. That figure has now risen to 71 percent — still below the 79 percent of Republicans who back Brady, but there are more Democrats than Republicans in Illinois.

Moreover, Quinn previously had the support of slightly less than half of Chicago voters. But he is now getting the support of nearly six-in-10 residents of the city, which typically turns out overwhelmingly for Democrats.

As Quinn is slowly cementing his base of support, Brady's popularity among voters has dropped significantly.

Before Labor Day, 28 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Brady, while 19 percent viewed the Republican unfavorably. Fully 40 percent of voters who had heard of Brady back then had no opinion of him. The latest survey shows 35 percent of voters still don't have an opinion of Brady, but those who do are split: 30 percent favorably and 29 percent unfavorably.

Quinn's campaign has come under fire for disorganization, lack of message and the governor's personal direction of his election effort. But its advertising push has been strong. A recent TV spot refers to Brady, a real estate developer, as a millionaire three times in noting he did not pay federal income taxes in two recent years.

The blitz drew a response ad from Brady, whose commercial points out that Quinn failed to mention that Brady did not owe federal taxes in those years. Brady goes on to accuse Quinn of "hoping to hide his pitiful record, where things have gone from bad to worse" and cites a $13 billion state budget deficit, continued borrowing and a push to raise the state's income tax. Brady opposes a tax hike in favor of unspecified spending cuts, and has blasted Quinn in a TV ad for supporting a tax increase.

Quinn has tried to woo moderate and liberal voters by pointing to Brady's socially conservative stances. Brady has sought to seize on economic discontent Illinois to focus his message as a businessman and job creator. The poll found 39 percent of those surveyed think Brady would do a better job of restoring the state's economy, compared to one-third who said Quinn would do the better job.

But as much as voters are taking a closer look at Brady, Quinn remains an unpopular governor. Since assuming the office in January 2009 following the impeachment of disgraced ex- Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Quinn has been buffeted by fallout from a botched prisoner early release program, for awarding pay raises despite the state's money woes and for a change-his-mind style of governing.

Only one-third of those surveyed approve of the job Quinn is doing as governor, but that's up slightly from the 28 percent who backed his job performance a month ago. And 48 percent disapprove of the job he is doing, compared to the 50 percent disapproval the earlier survey showed.

Still, voters have a bit more favorable view of Quinn than last month. Only about a quarter of voters viewed Quinn favorably in the previous survey, a figure that has increased to 34 percent in the latest poll. While 42 percent of voters a month ago had an unfavorable impression of Quinn, that's now fallen slightly to 39 percent.

Quinn remains heavily out of favor with voters outside the Chicago area — a possible explanation for his recent spate of downstate visits to cut ribbons for public works projects. Almost half of downstate residents view the governor unfavorably, and Brady has the backing of 51 percent of the region's voters compared to Quinn's 27 percent.

Among independent voters, a group key to Republican chances for victory, Brady holds the advantage but has failed to distance himself significantly from Quinn. The poll found Brady favored by 37 percent of independent voters, compared to 33 percent a month ago. But Quinn also gained and is now backed by 29 percent of independents, up from 24 percent last month.

Looking ahead, the winner of the governor's contest may come down to the voting decisions of the 18 percent of independent voters who say they are undecided, not to mention the 12 percent overall undecided voters.

The suburbs also may loom large: Brady led Quinn 44 percent to 27 percent in the traditionally Republican-leaning collar counties about a month ago. But Quinn and Brady now are each getting about the same amount of support among those voters.