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Rhode Island’s Most and Least Popular Politicians

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


How much do elected officials consider public approval ratings? See what the experts have to say.

According the most recent Brown University Taubman Center Public Opinion Survey , approval ratings — the percentage of poll respondents rating an official’s performance as "good" or "excellent"  — declined for nearly all state and local elected officials in Rhode Island.

"Job approval numbers are important to most elected officials. Some times it's the only measurement they really have as to whether voters think that they are doing a good job," said Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report.  "No politician can be proud of a 4.5 percent "excellent" job approval score."

Now that the 2013 elections are past -- and candidates have already begun to declare their intentions for 2014 races -- GoLocal takes a look at who have been the least and most popular elected officials in Rhode Island, looking at current and historic data from Brown University polls.

See Past and Current Approval Ratings For Rhode Island Elected Officials BELOW

Marion Orr, Director of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the Fred Lippitt Professor of Public Policy, Political Science and Urban Studies at Brown University, offered his thoughts on this year's numbers.  

"As far as our federal delegation is concerned, I suspect it's a reflection of the discontent folks have currently with the institution of government, that the President and Congress can't get their act together. And that perception has a chilling effect on federal elected officials."

Regarding Governor Chafee's approval rating slip to 23%, Orr said, "I think this instance is a mix of people's perception of what might be called Chafee's "under-performance". I think in the case of the Governor, there's clearly some discontent on the unemployment, stagnant economy."

Darrell West with the Brookings Institution had a similar assessment of the factors that played a part in approval ratings. "When numbers go down across the board, there generally is a systemic reason as opposed to an assessment of individual performances. That could be feelings about government in general or how voters feel about top political leaders."

Duffy thought the President's numbers were particularly noteworthy.  

"I suspect that the drop in approval ratings has much more to do with voters' frustrations about the economy, jobs, health care and the government shut down than it does about any particular elected official. Just about everyone's number dropped about the same number of points, except Obama's. It's amazing to me that his job approval rating is 41 percent in a state he carried just a year ago with 63 percent of the vote."

Importance to Elected Officials

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has the highest public approval rating in the state in the recent Brown Taubman Center survey.

"The Governor, Senators, Congresspersons, they are concerned -- and interested -- in public approval, to get a sense of what the public thinks of how they're doing their jobs," said Orr.  "There's value, from a public perspective to get a snap shot of how they're doing."

Orr added, "If you're an incumbent, you want high approval ratings to ward off challengers to keep coming your way. If you're putting good numbers up, challengers might not risk leaving their current position to run against someone with high approval ratings."  

"They always matter to the officeholders but because they can be affected by external conditions, such as a government shutdown, or a great stock market, officeholders worry more about their ratings the closer they are to Election Day," said Brown Professor of Political Science Approval Wendy Schiller.  

"As for the differences between Senator Reed and Whitehouse, frequently the senior senator in a state is more popular than their junior colleague, even when they are nearly identical in their voting records. Overall, all of Congress suffered at the time of this poll because of the government shutdown, and it will take a long time for Congress as a whole to recover in terms of its reputation, especially if it happens again."

Cautionary Advice

Veteran political pollster Victor Profughi warned about relying on a single vantage point for an assessment of an elected official's performance -- and public approval.  

"I think I would make a distinction between the Brown poll, and polls in general -- there's a lot of attention to them, for sure. If a candidate is running for re-election, their first question is usually, "How am I doing with my job ratings," said Profughi.  

He continued, "It's still very early to tell -- those ratings are as much a reflection of a sentiment more than anything. I don't know what effect they'll have. The fact that the approval scores are going to down is not likely to affect the voters choice -- how they feel about a candidate will affect their voters." 

June Sager Speakman, Ph.D., who is a Professor of Political Science at Roger Williams University, said "Approval ratings are less important to candidates than polls that accurately measure likely voter behavior. But because approval ratings get so much press attention, and thus do influence the atmosphere within which the campaign takes place, candidates would rather see high numbers than low ones, obviously. And as you know, candidates have internal polls done by professional polling firms using state-of-the-art methods, that the candidates rely on the tweak their message, or their schedule, or their general campaign strategy."

RIC Professor Valerie Endress thought that poll numbers should be taken with a grain of salt -- but that they could be advantageous, as well.  

"Polls can influence voters, but usually not enough to change the outcome. Studies indicate that holding a lead, combined with high approval ratings can mean perhaps a four or five percentage-point bump among undecided voters. The effect can be more in a primary, particularly when the opponents are not well known. Where the greatest impact may be felt is in fundraising. Individuals are much more likely to give to frontrunners, so a candidate lagging in the race and with high negatives won’t reap the same rewards in fundraising efforts."

Impact on Voters?  

Is there a correlation between approval ratings -- and getting elected?

"If you're talking about approval ratings, as opposed to head-to-head horserace polls, they matter less and less as the election gets closer. Again, on election day, it's what likely voter think, as opposed to the general public, that matters. And you know how it goes, even politicians with low approval rates manage to get re-elected," said Speakman.  "And the U.S. Congress, with its approval rate close to zero, will see most of its members re-elected next fall."

Orr offered his take on the impact of the ratings.  "There's public opinion, versus "who I'm going to vote for."  For one, when you ask public approval, you're not asking for "either/or" - in an election you get a different set of circumstances.

Orr pointed to the example of Congressman David Cicilline.  "David had low public approval ratings, but as he's running in Rhode Island in the 1st congressional district against a Republican, his chances of winning are still significant, based on party affiliation alone."  

RIC's Endress cautioned as well that next year's election is still a year out.  "At this early stage, campaign operatives are not going to make significant adjustments in the way that they frame a campaign because of early ratings. They’re more interested in upward and downward trends over time as the campaign evolves and the public has had more exposure to all of the candidates."

See Rhode Island Politician Approval Ratings BELOW


Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s Most and Least Popular Politicians

The statewide poll conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University in October 2013 is the latest public opinion survey by the Ivy League institution.  

See how elected officials fared in Brown polls in years past BELOW.  

Prev Next

Mayor Angel Taveras


October 2013: 63.9%

October 2012: 65.6%

December 2011: 51.7%

Prev Next

Treasurer Gina Raimondo


October 2013: 54.2%

October 2012: 58.7%

December 2011: 52%

Prev Next

Senator Jack Reed


October 2013: 51.6%

October 2012: 58.5%

December 2011: 46.4%

July 2010: 55.6%

December 2009: 56.3%

September 2008: 68%

September 2007: 61%

September 2006: 70%

September 2005: 65%

June 2004: 63%

September 2003: 62%

Prev Next

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse


October 2013: 39.4%

October 2012: 45.4%

December 2011: 33.6%

July 2010: 42.8%

December 2009: 43.7%

September 2008: 46.2%

September 2007: 41%

Prev Next

Rep. Jim Langevin


October 2013: 38.7%

October 2012: 41%

December 2011: 41.9%

July 2010: 54.6%

December 2009: 46%

September 2008: 51.2%

September 2007: 55%

September 2006: 56%

September 2005: 62%

June 2004: 56%

September 2003: 56%

Prev Next

AG Peter Kilmartin



October 2013: 35.6%

October 2012: 35.8%

December 2011: 34.5%

July 2010: 20.2%

Prev Next

Sec. of State Mollis


October 2013: 35.6%

October 2012: 28.6%

December 2011: 25.6%

July 2010: 32.6%

December 2009: 22.6%

September 2008: 24.1%

September 2007: 23%

Prev Next

Lt. Governor Roberts


October 2013: 32.9%

October 2012: 37.5%

December 2011: 32.8%

July 2010: 33.5%

December 2009: 22.4%

September 2008: 24%

September 2007: 37%

Prev Next

Rep. David Cicilline


October 2013: 26.6%

October 2012: 29.7%

December 2011: 24.3%

*July 2010: 40.3%

*December 2009: 40.8%

*September 2008: 46%

*September 2007: 64%

*September 2006: 58%

*September 2005: 60%

*June 2004: 61%

*September 2003: 67%

* As Mayor of Providence

Prev Next

Sen. President Paiva-Weed

October 2013: 23.5%

October 2012: 26.2%

December 2011: 24.1%

July 2010: 21.4%

December 2009: 19%


Prev Next

Governor Lincoln Chafee

October 2013: 23%

October 2012: 28.5%

December 2011: 27.4%

*September 2006: 51%

*September 2005: 54%

*June 2004: 56%

*September 2003: 50%

* As U.S. Senator

Prev Next

Speaker Fox


October 2013: 20.5%

October 2012: 18.3%

December 2011: 25.9%

July 2010: 20.2%


Related Articles


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Low approval ratings - yet - these buffoon Democrats get re-elected. This shows how stupid RI voters truly are and how poor the GOP candidates really are.

Hey GOP - stop being mushy and bringing those John McLame and Lindsey Gramnesty type candidates to the ballot.

Maybe bring back the true conservative candidates and roll the dice. Your record of success in RI is horrible so maybe go back to your roots and look at real "anti-Progressive" people to run for office?

Can't hurt much since you GOP regulars have as many seats in local government as Obama has truthful statements!


Remember Benghazi 2012 when Clinton and Obama blamed a YouTube video for their deaths.

Comment #1 by Killary Klinton on 2013 11 06

Can I express how tired I am of these "list" articles? Top 50 this, Most popular that... Can we just have some news instead of constant lists? This formula has grown old. Very, very old.

Comment #2 by Karl Treen on 2013 11 06

where are you getting these numbers? I havent talked to anyone who supports Taveras!

Raised car taxes and property taxes, demolished Joslin Pool and took all the money out of the ward account, still hasnt put it back!

Wanted to destroy Davey Lopes Pool!

Then gave all his friends at city hall pay raises, $175,000 a year isnt enough???

Comment #3 by anthony sionni on 2013 11 06

The voters see it different, they are predominately looking out for themselves and they THINK the loonies they are putting in office will keep making it easy for them. It really comes down to complacency with the voters. As evidenced by the leader of the GA, Gordon Fox at 20% approval rate shows how low we can go, followed by Chafee, Pavia-Weed and Sissylinie:). Either the people stating their options don't vote or the voters in RI are casting their votes for a party without caring what is happening around them. I think the latter, the majority of RI voters are brain dead.

Comment #4 by Gary Arnold on 2013 11 06

these polls appear to be contra-indicators

Comment #5 by michael riley on 2013 11 06

Anthony, in your list of Taveras’ atrocities you left out his pathetic deal with Brown University. In exchange for a fraction of what their PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) should have been, Taveras gave Brown 250 on-street parking spaces around Brown. And that “gift” is forever. 

It is so maddening to me when I am looking for a parking place around Brown and I drive down street after street with signs saying BROWN UNIVERSITY ONLY.

Brown pays a pittance to the City and now they have exclusive rights to park on the public streets. Of course the City of Providence still has to plow the snow and pave as needed.


Comment #6 by James Berling on 2013 11 06

I cant stand any of the politicians in this state...completely useless one sided half wits kind of sums it up without using profanity.
Now im no Anthony gemma supporter either, but man was he right about ciccilini (funny how that didn't get investigated) how else can one explain being down 5 points In the polls and winning by 20 points on a +- 4 points still pretty darn fishy.
but to give the rhode island voter their due credit, chaffee (your tax hero) runs on a promise to raise taxes, what is one to do???? oh yea lets vote him in. (you dolts, you know who you are!!!)
Fox has more power than the governer of this dump, and yet he can barely pull off his own victory in an area that sees a total turnout of what 5k people. (so 5k people are able to decide who the most powerful person is in this state)...thanks for that one too
Shelton Whitehouse, great approval ratings he has, whats it today 3%? losing in the polls to an unheard of republican... yet wins by a landslide. Caught with his hand in the cookie jar of insider trading and drunken underage house parties. those rules don't appy to him but they do to you!!!

Comment #7 by steven richard on 2013 11 06

Taveras endorsed Cicciline for re-election. Enough said?

Comment #8 by Joseph Reynolds on 2013 11 06

OK, here’s a compilation of reasons not to vote for Taveras:

Didn’t lower property taxes in Providence—they are among the highest in the country

Actually raised Property Taxes in Providence—unbelievable!

Raised Auto taxes in Providence

Demolished Joslin Pool and took all the money out of the ward account

Wanted to destroy Davey Lopes Pool

Gave all his friends at City Hall pay raises—$175,000 a year just wasn’t enough

Permanently gave Brown 250 on-street parking spaces for a tiny fraction of what Brown should be contributing in PILOT.

Taveras endorsed Cicciline for re-election—unconscionable

Fellow posters, please feel free to add to this list and re-post. I’m sure we are forgetting something.

Comment #9 by James Berling on 2013 11 06

Hey KK, perhaps you ought to step up to the plate and throw your name in that hat as a "strong" republican... it's one thing to armchair quarterback everything, but you actually have it within your ability to address something that you see as a problem - file your candidacy paperwork and get ready to work your tail off to get elected...

Comment #10 by Michael Chippendale on 2013 11 06

I'm just curious....when I click on the tab that reads NEWS......There's not a single NEWS story. Amazing, Golocalprov really does suck.

Comment #11 by pearl fanch on 2013 11 06

Michael Riley -

You have quite a point there. Agree.

Comment #12 by paul zecchino on 2013 11 06

I don't believe anything Marion Orr is involved in.

Comment #13 by Geoffrey Wickham on 2013 11 06

@Pearl, if GolocalProv had decent bulletin board software or used Disqus or Livefyre this site would take off - views etc.

Projo now blocks comments and people they don't like so the threads over there are for the most part one sided and useless.

Comment #14 by Jim D on 2013 11 07

"Hey KK, perhaps you ought to step up to the plate and throw your name in that hat as a "strong" republican... it's one thing to armchair quarterback everything, but you actually have it within your ability to address something that you see as a problem - file your candidacy paperwork and get ready to work your tail off to get elected..."

I'm a pro-life, pro-second amendment, free speech libertarian. I believe the govt should just defend the country and build roads with my tax dollars. Stay out of my life. To me, the T.E.A Party has not gone far enough to stop the raping of the taxpayers. They too have buckled a bit since the last election. Tell me how that agenda would do in a state run by Alinsky liberals?

I want LESS GOVERNMENT so the last thing I would want is to add to the problem. Healy has it right but most LIVs missed the point. The only way to complain less about the govt is to have less govt.

Instead of voting for more of the same, I will be voting with my feet and getting out of this Democrat run cesspool known as Rhode Island.

Good luck Mike with your adventures in insanity. I respect your efforts but I've reached the point where it's best to move to an area of the country that is not circling the bowl.


Remember Benghazi 2012 when Clinton stated to congress - what difference does it make?

Comment #15 by Killary Klinton on 2013 11 07

Killary, pro-life and Libertarian are mutually exclusive. True Libertarians know that government should stay out of our bedrooms, marriages, and doctor's offices.

Comment #16 by John Onamas on 2013 11 07

John -

Who said being "Pro-Life" has anything to do with the government? I don't believe in killing the unborn. Do I stop murdering doctors from killing babies? No, but I choose not to believe in this murdering of innocents.

Unlike Maggie Sanger, a true racist and a person Hillary idolizes, the murder of babies to force their view of the perfect human race on the world is not in my credo.


Comment #17 by Killary Klinton on 2013 11 07

You do realize how idiotic your polls are, don't you?
Every person on that list will get re-elected the next time they run, and will win by a land slide. We go through this EVERY election, and it's sickening. Every one of these people should go, but they never will. Your polls don't mean squat!!!!

Comment #18 by pearl fanch on 2013 11 12

Let's just pretend for a second, that these polls are accurate (ha ha). If all of these politicians have low ratings with the voters, then they won't get re-elected.
Soooooooo, when they DO get re-elected, the only possible reason would be because of voter fraud and corruption in the vote counting process.

Comment #19 by pearl fanch on 2013 11 12

Just got back from vacation and am playing CATCH-UP!

You have gotten to be kidding me with this survey.....who paid off the outfit doing the survey?

Angel (I choke every ntime I try to connect that name with what an Angel is supposed to be....that Mr.Tavare IS MOT. I would not trust this man as far as I could throw him!

As to Jim D's comment: "Projo now blocks comments and people they don't like so the threads over there are for the most part one sided and useless." - - - Oh so true....I also see me deleted like never, ever, before as they do not like my comments and outspokeness!

LASTLY.....With the posible exception of Gina....are you telling me that the rest of these clowns are our most popular politicians???

God help us as that also probably means that the Democrats in this State that have their heads you know where, and are absolutely cluless, are also, very parobably elect these Bozo's (except for the Gump, as he saw the writing on the wall) again?

Comment #20 by TOM LETOURNEAU on 2013 11 17

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