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Exclusive Poll: RI Weighs In On Statewide Elected Officials

Friday, September 23, 2011


Nearly half of the registered voters in Rhode Island have an unfavorable view of Governor Chafee, an exclusive GoLocalProv poll has found. At 47 percent, the Governor’s unfavorable numbers rank among the highest in the state, while several prominent Democrats have unfavorables below 15 percent.

Among statewide elected officials (with the exception of Sheldon Whitehouse, James Langevin and David Cicilline, whose numbers will be unveiled next week), Chafee also has one of the highest favorable numbers at 45 percent. The most popular politician in the state continues to be Senator Jack Reed, who garnered 69 percent favorable, according to the poll.

The poll, which was conducted by Starr Opinion Research, asked 403 Rhode Islanders for their opinions on a wide array of topics, ranging from President’s approval numbers to their views on the 1st Congressional District race in 2012. The margin of error for the overall sample was 4.9 percentage points.

The Numbers

The poll found that both Lt. Governor Elizabeth Robert (43 percent) and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo (39 percent) have high favorable numbers while the two show unfavorable numbers at 13 and 7 percent, respectively. Raimondo has the lowest unfavorable numbers in the state.

Among the other general office holders, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin finds himself with 29 percent favorable against 8 percent unfavorable and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis has 21 percent favorable against 22 percent unfavorable.

The majority of statewide officeholders remain unfamiliar to many voters, with only Senator Reed and Governor Chafee having almost universal familiarity. By comparison, Roberts (34 percent), Raimondo (44 percent), Kilmartin (49 percent) and Mollis (42 percent) are considered unknown by a significant portion of Rhode Island’s registered voters.

Schiller: Chafee Numbers Show Dissatisfaction

Brown University Political Science Professor Wendy Schiller told GoLocalProv that Reed has clearly established himself has a “heavyweight in Rhode Island” politics, nothing that “I am not sure at this point his legacy will equal that of Claiborne Pell, but he is on his way.”

But Schiller said Chafee should be disappointed in his unfavorable numbers.

“If I were Chafee, I would be disappointed in these numbers,” she said. “That nearly half of Rhode Islanders have an unfavorable opinion of him can likely be traced to their dissatisfaction with the RI economy and Chafee's relatively weak influence with the state legislature. However, if he shows strong leadership next month when the state legislature meets to discuss pension reform, he could turn that around. If he does not do that, he risks making himself irrelevant for the remainder of his term.”

Schiller also offered high praise for Raimondo.

“Gina Raimondo has very high approval but lots of people still do not know who she is and with as much coverage as she has received in the local media on pensions that is surprising,” Schiller said. “However, if the pension situation is not resolved well, this might bode well for Raimondo down the line should she think about running for Governor because people will be likely to reward her for her efforts, but blame Chafee and [House Speaker] Gordon Fox for the failure to get it fixed.

West: Voters Divided On Chafee

Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., agreed with Schiller’s analysis. He said Senator Reed is “well-respected by voters and they appreciate his hard work on behalf of the state.”

At the same time, he noted that Chafee’s numbers could be due to a high unemployment rate.

“Governor Chafee has high negatives for a first-year governor,” he said. “Voters are quite divided over his job performance. It is hard for chief executives to maintain popularity when unemployment is high.”

West said both Roberts and Raimondo have “outstanding numbers.”

“Lieutenant Governor Roberts has outstanding numbers,” West said. “Her favorables are more than three times the rate of her unfavorables. People appreciate the strong job she had done on behalf of working folks in the state. Treasurer Raimondo has outstanding numbers. Her favorability ratio is five times that of her unfavorable number. That means very strong support. She has gained respect for her willingness to tackle difficult pension issues and work with various constituents in that area.”

As for Kilmartin and Mollis, Westi noted that because of their positions, name recognition is simply hard to come by.

“Attorney General Kilmartin is not as well known as other statewide officials because first impressions of him are quite positive,” he said. “Many more people are favorably than unfavorably predisposed to how he is handling that job. Secretary of State Mollis has not built strong recognition around the state and those who rate him are sharply divided between favorable and unfavorable.”

Profughi: Be Thankful You’re Not Up For Election Until 2014

Quest Research Pollster Victor Profughi said the Governor has a lot of work to do to gain back support of registered voted in the state.

“Chafee is the best known of the bunch (92% recognition, but with voters equally divided over those who like him and those who don't he can be very thankful that he won't be up for election until 2014,” he said.

Profughi continued: “As a minority winner in 2010 his popularity with the electorate certainly has not skyrocketed, and he may, in fact, be a classic humpty dumpty--remains to be seen if all the king's horses and men can put him together--never mind again since he has never been in that position with voters.”


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