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Poll has Martha Coakley, Charlie Baker in dead heat

The gap between the two is now the narrowest it has been in the seven weeks since the Globe began polling.

Josh Reynolds/Associated press, Stephan Savoia/Associated press

The gap between the two candidates is now the narrowest it has been in the seven weeks since the Globe began polling.

Democrat Martha Coakley has seen her edge over Republican Charlie Baker nearly erased in the last several weeks and is now virtually tied with Baker in a potential general-election matchup, according to a new Boston Globe poll.

Coakley leads Baker 39 percent to 36 percent in a hypothetical November contest. The 3-point edge is within the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Four weeks ago, Coakley held a nine-point advantage over Baker. The gap between the two is now the narrowest it has been in the seven weeks since the Globe began polling.

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The poll also examined a range of crime- and gun-related issues, and found that 62 percent of likely voters support US Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to seek the death penalty for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Twenty-nine percent said they oppose Holder’s decision.

Democrats were almost evenly split on the question, with 48 percent supporting Holder’s choice and 46 percent opposing it. Republicans, at 86 percent to 14 percent, and independents, at 70 percent to 26 percent, were more solidly in favor of the federal push for the death penalty for Tsarnaev.

Despite Massachusetts’ strict gun laws, as well as its reputation as a liberal bastion, 30 percent of likely voters said they or one of their immediate family members own a gun. That is not much different from national rates of gun ownership. One national survey, for example, found that 34 percent of American households owned a gun in 2012.

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The Globe poll found younger voters were just as likely as older voters to own a gun, although there was a split among voters depending on their level of education. Thirty-five percent of likely voters who did not have a college degree said they or one of their immediate family members own a gun, compared to 26 percent of college graduates.

Democrats, at 16 percent, were less likely than Republicans, at 37 percent, and independents, at 36 percent, to own a gun.

The vast majority of Globe poll respondents said they feel safe in their homes and in their neighborhoods, although those with lower incomes were more likely to feel unsafe.

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The live telephone survey of 605 likely, registered voters was conducted by SocialSphere, Inc. from July 7 to July 8, and from July 13 to July 15. The margin of error, while 4 percentage points for the survey overall, was 5.1 percentage points for a smaller sample of 362 voters likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary on Sept. 9.

Nearly half of all respondents to the poll, or 47 percent, said they believe the state’s gun laws, already considered among the toughest in the nation, should be stricter. Thirty-five percent said the laws should remain the same, while 15 percent said they should be less strict.

The findings suggest voters are generally supportive of the Legislature’s recent effort to pass wide-ranging legislation that would further tighten firearm regulations in Massachusetts and give police discretion to deny a permit for a rifle or shotgun if an applicant is deemed unsuitable.

That bill was denounced last week by the National Rifle Association, which told its members the legislation “will directly and adversely affect your constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

Yet the poll found Massachusetts voters, perhaps not surprisingly, are not fond of the national group. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters said they had a favorable view of the NRA, while 53 percent said they had an unfavorable view.

That is the opposite of national surveys, which have indicated that most Americans have a positive view of the NRA. Last year, for example, a nationwide poll indicated that 57 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the NRA, compared to 36 percent who had an unfavorable view.

Asked about personal safety, the vast majority of Globe poll respondents said they feel safe in their homes and in their neighborhoods, although those with lower incomes were more likely to feel unsafe. Overall, 96 percent of respondents said they feel secure in their homes after dark, and 84 percent said they feel safe walking in their neighborhoods after dark.

But among likely voters who earn less than $50,000 a year, the rate was lower, with 65 percent saying they feel safe walking in their neighborhoods at night. By comparison, 93 percent of those with annual incomes of more than $100,000 said they feel safe in their neighborhoods after dark.

One-third of all respondents said they have been victims of property crime, and 16 percent said they had been victims of violent crime. College-educated voters were more likely to report being victims of property crimes, while those without college degrees were more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

As it does every week, the poll tracked changes in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. While the survey showed a possible general election contest between Baker and Coakley tightening, it indicated that Coakley continues to dominate the Democratic primary race.

With less than eight weeks until that election, the attorney general holds a 34-point lead, 50 percent to 16 percent, over her nearest rival, state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who has dropped 2 percentage points over the last two weeks. Former federal health care administrator Don Berwick was at 6 percent in the poll.

Coakley, despite coming in second to Grossman at the state Democratic convention in June, has remained above 50 percent in the poll every week for the last seven weeks. Grossman and Berwick, meanwhile, have not seen any significant shift in their standing. The findings indicate Grossman has been unable to translate his convention victory into broader support from likely Democratic primary voters. And Berwick, despite emphasizing his liberal credentials, has not generated widespread enthusiasm among the Democratic electorate.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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