Growing economic optimism about Michigan may be helping Gov. Rick Snyder in his re-election campaign against challenger Mark Schauer, a new statewide poll shows.

The Republican incumbent held an 8-percentage-point lead over Schauer, 45 percent to 37 percent, with 15 percent of voters remaining undecided in a statewide poll of 600 likely voters conducted Oct. 2-4 for The Detroit News and WDIV (Channel 4). It is outside the survey's margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

The governor's polling numbers are being buoyed by 51 percent of likely voters saying Michigan is on the right track — the most optimistic economic outlook in more than a decade, said pollster Richard Czuba, president of the Chicago-based Glengariff Group Inc.

"For good or bad … Michigan elections are won on the economy," Czuba said. "And right now, Michigan voters are starting to feel optimistic on the economy again."

Since Snyder took office, Michigan employers have added 233,200 payroll jobs. While emphasizing job creation on his watch, Snyder has been pushing for expanded technical education to fill at least 80,000 skill trades job openings in the state.

More than 11,000 jobs in high-demand fields like manufacturing, health care and energy are expected to open annually during the next five years in Metro Detroit, Oakland County Michigan Works! and the state's Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives reported Monday.

With the economic data in Snyder's favor, Czuba said, the best chance Schauer has of upsetting the governor is to convince undecided voters that Snyder's economic and tax policies aren't working in their favor.

"To win additional votes, Schauer's going to have to have a conversation on the economy and jobs," Czuba said. "That's going to be a hard conversation given the continuing optimism in Michigan's economy that's growing."

Schauer's campaign plans to launch a new TV ad Tuesday aimed at pocketbook issues, spokesman Zack Pohl said.

"Snyder's folks are going to try really hard to trump this up as some great moment for them," said Pohl, who contends the race is much closer than polling suggests. "Everything we've seen points to this being a very close race all the way through Nov. 4."

On the campaign trail, Schauer has argued Michigan's 7.4 percent unemployment rate in August — sixth highest rate in the nation — remains high and that Snyder's $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses isn't working to get the state closer to the 6.1 percent national jobless rate in August.

In an interview with The Detroit News' editorial board Monday, Snyder responded to why the state's unemployment rate lags behind the nation. "We're lagging behind because we started further in the hole than anybody else," Snyder told The News.

Snyder's lead in the race has widened since the last Detroit News/WDIV poll in early September when he held a 2-point edge over Schauer and had just started a $2.5 million month-long TV ad campaign touting Michigan's economic "road to recovery." He spent the last month going on the offensive.

About 54 percent of likely voters approve of the job Snyder is doing, while 41 percent disapprove, according to the survey.

In the past month, the poll shows Snyder has regained his footing with independents, women and likely voters in southeast Michigan.

Schauer last month had built a 10-point lead among female voters as he complained the governor had cut education funding during his first year in office and is associated with Republican legislators who have sought to restrict access to abortion.

In the new poll, Schauer has a 1 percentage point lead among female voters — within the margin of error — but trails Snyder among male voters, 50 percent to 33 percent.

"Mark Schauer has a huge gender gap — and it's with men," Czuba said. "Men are breaking big time for Snyder. And part of that might be they're basing their decision largely on the economy versus the issues Schauer is running on, which is education funding."

Michael Brown, a 15-year veteran officer in the Detroit Police Department, participated in the poll and said he supports Snyder because of the governor's decision to take the city through bankruptcy. Detroit's restructuring plan calls for reversing 10 percent pay cuts for police officers during the next five years.

"Just the direction they're going with the city, I'm going to stick with Snyder," said Brown, 43, who lives in Fraser.

On the campaign trail, education funding during Snyder's four years remains a hot topic.

The Detroit News/WDIV poll found 49 percent of likely voters think K-12 school funding has decreased during the past four years, while 20 percent said it has increased and and 18 percent said it has stayed the same.

Last week, Snyder started calling claims that he cut $1 billion from schools "lies" and "hogwash," after previously saying Democrats were spreading "misinformation."

Overall funding for education since Snyder took office has increased by more than $1 billion from 2011 to the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, from $10.7 billion to $11.7 billion.

But Schauer, a former lawmaker from Battle Creek,points to a 2012 budget Snyder signed that reduced funding in the school aid budget by $930 million. The reductions included the loss of more than $500 million in one-time federal stimulus dollars, but did not include about $288 million the Legislature later added for school employee pensions and $154 million in grants for school districts that performed "best practices."

Snyder has said it's unfair to hold him accountable for Granholm's use of one-time federal aid to temper cuts to school operations. Much of Snyder's increased funding for education has helped school districts pay their employee retirement costs.

"The fact is, schools have less dollars in the classroom as a result of Rick Snyder's cuts," Schauer said Saturday during a campaign stop with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

Debate on Sunday

Gov. Rick Snyder and Mark Schauer will answer questions from undecided voters Sunday during a televised town hall meeting at Wayne State University. The hour-long gubernatorial face-off begins at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on Detroit Public Television, which is co-sponsoring the event with The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

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