WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. Chris Collins holds a narrow, statistically insignificant lead over Democrat Nathan McMurray in the race for the House seat in New York's deeply conservative 27th Congressional district, according to a Spectrum News/Siena College poll released early Tuesday.
Collins leads McMurray by a margin of 46 to 43 percent in the survey of 490 likely voters. The margin of error in the poll was plus or minus 4.7 percentage points, meaning that in statistical terms, the race is a dead heat.
“Republican Collins holds a narrow three-point lead over Democrat McMurray in a district that has more than 40,000 more Republicans than Democrats, a district that favors Republicans maintaining control of the House by 18 points, and a district that gives President Trump an 18-point net positive job approval rating," said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.
Federal prosecutors in New York indicted Collins on felony insider trading charges on Aug. 8, a move that upended the race for Congress in what long had been considered a safe Republican seat.
It's that no longer. The poll found that nearly half the voters surveyed – 49 percent – view Collins negatively.
“Collins is well-known but not particularly well-liked," Greenberg said. "Only Republicans view him favorably, and that’s not overwhelming at 48-35 percent. In fact, one of every eight Collins voters views him unfavorably."
McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor, remains largely unknown. Some 48 percent of those surveyed said that either they had no opinion of McMurray or that they didn't want to answer the question.
What's more, McMurray appears to have room to make up the narrow gap between him and Collins. The survey found that 10 percent of voters either said they don't know who they will vote for or refused to answer the question. Larry Piegza, a Hamburg businessman who is running as a pro-Trump candidate on the Reform Party line, drew only 1 percent in the poll.
But McMurray faces a huge hurdle in the race: the wide margin by which voters in the district said they favor keeping the House in Republican control.
Still, the Democrat said today the polls shows "voters are choosing country over party."
"They’re motivated based on who will help families like theirs rather than simply voting along partisan lines,” McMurray said early Tuesday. “We always knew this would be a close race, and this poll shows that it’s neck and neck. But our TV ads went on the air yesterday, after this poll was conducted; our grassroots support is strong, and as more voters tune in to the race and learn that they have a real choice we’re more and more confident.”
Republicans have an eight-point enrollment edge in the district, which connects the Buffalo and Rochester suburbs via the farmland in between. In addition, the district's Independents tend to lean Republican: according to the poll, Independents favor continued Republican control of the House by a seven-point margin.
Siena pollsters surveyed the district between Oct. 6 and 11, meaning most of the poll was conducted before Oct. 11, the day Collins' indictment drew heavy news coverage again thanks to a judge's decision to set the trial date in the lawmaker's criminal case for February 2020.
The Collins campaign offered no immediate reaction to the poll. McMurray also tweeted out the results of the poll along with a fundraising appeal.
The survey found the race too close to call all across the district. McMurray held a statistically insignificant one-point lead in Erie County, where Collins, who lives in Clarence, served as county executive before moving to Congress. Collins has a tenuous four-point edge across the rest of the district.
While Collins holds narrow leads among men, women and voters of all ages, the poll found McMurray with a big edge among more educated voters. The Democrat leads by eight points among voters with at least a bachelor's degree, while Collins leads by 13 points among voters without a college diploma.
“Like many other close races this will come down to turnout," Greenberg said. "This is certainly not a headache national and local Republicans had been counting on just a few short months ago,”