The Siena College Research Institute poll, released Thursday, shows the five-term congressman from Southampton leading the St. James businessman 52 percent to 39 percent, among 624 likely voters surveyed from Sept. 5 to 10. That includes 25 percent of Republicans saying they'd support the incumbent Democrat.
"What we see here is a district that's somewhat conservative leaning, yet they're not ready to fully get behind the Republican candidate," said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg.
Reflecting overall registration, slightly more poll respondents identified themselves as Republican than Democratic in a district in which GOP nominee Mitt Romney is expected to compete closely with President Barack Obama. As opposed to the gap in the congressional race, Romney and Obama polled dead even at 47 percent, with only 5 percent of voters undecided.
In 2010, Altschuler lost to Bishop by just 593 of more than 200,000 votes cast -- it was the nation's last-decided House race. That October, Siena released a poll that had Bishop up by 14 points, almost identical to his margin in the new survey.
Altschuler's camp cited that previous result Thursday, and others that have been off base in dismissing the poll. Its margin of error was 3.9 percent.
"One looks at how badly they botched their 2010 polls, and it's impossible for any reasonable person to take the Siena poll seriously," campaign manager Diana Weir said.
Greenberg responded by noting his early polls are merely "a snapshot in time," and that the surveys conducted within days of the election typically reflect final results. He added that it's reasonable to expect more Republicans to now circle back to their party's candidate.
Recent polls commissioned by the candidates or partisan PACs have varied widely. One by Altschuler showed him up by 4 points, while Bishop's latest had him leading by 14.
Several nonpartisan analysts, meanwhile, list the race as one of a few nationwide toss ups, or as slightly leaning to Bishop.
"Do I think that this is going to be a 13-point race in the end? No," said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst with the The Rothenberg Report, which handicaps federal races. "But I do think, fundamentally, that Bishop still has the edge."
Bishop's team said Thursday the Siena poll shows voters of both parties "know and trust" their candidate. It pointed to respondents saying they preferred Bishop to represent them on all six issues posed to them: jobs, health care, education, taxes, the federal deficit and the war in Afghanistan.
"While it's nice to know people trust Tim, we have a lot of work to do," said Bishop spokesman Robert Pierce. "We're eight weeks out. This isn't time to spike the football."