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Exclusive Poll: Where Does Congressman Cicilline Stand With RI Voters?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


David Cicilline has faced harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle since taking office in January, but the first-term Democratic Congressman still holds a slight lead over Republican candidates Brendan Doherty and John Loughlin, a GoLocalProv has found.

As it stands today, Cicilline leads Doherty 43% to 39% and Loughlin 45% to 37% with less than 20% undecided in each potential race. The poll also found that Cicilline’s potential Democratic challenger, Anthony Gemma, trails Doherty 31% to 29% and leads Loughlin 33% to 30%. A primary matchup between Cicilline and Gemma was not polled.

The poll, which was conducted by Starr Opinion Research between September 8 and 13, asked 206 registered voters in 1st Congressional District for their opinions on Cicilline and his potential opponents. The margin of error for the overall sample was 6.8 percentage points.

Cicilline: Highest Unfavorable Number In State

Despite maintaining a small lead, Cicilline has the highest unfavorable number of any elected official in Rhode Island with 51%. By comparison, Doherty, Loughlin and Gemma have unfavorables under 12%, but registered voters are significantly less familiar with the three challengers.

According to Josh Starr, who conducted the poll, the Congressman is facing a tough re-election.

“Currently, more voters in the 1st District (51%) have an unfavorable view of David Cicilline than a favorable view (42%),” Starr said. “While campaigns can influence these opinions, Cicilline’s campaign faces a challenge in that he has a diminished core base of voters in his district – voters are twice as likely to be very unfavorable (31%) to him than very favorable (14%).

Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi said he was more surprised with the lack of name recognition with the Republican challengers than Cicilline’s numbers.

“Although Cicilline's recognition is high, so are his unfavorable. Nothing especially surprising here,” Profughi said. “More surprising is the very low recognition factor for both Doherty and Loughlin. Equally significant is the fact that Congressman Cicilline may be out front of both of his Republican opponents, although with the margin of error Doherty may tie him.”

Profughi said noted that both Democrats have similar numbers when up against the Republicans.

“Interestingly, there is no statistical difference between how Cicilline and Gemma would do against the prospective Republicans,” he said.

Schiller: Cicilline Has Work To Do

The voter dissatisfaction with Ciciiline is likely due in part to his performance as Mayor of Providence over eight years. Earlier this year, current Mayor Angel Taveras called the city’s financial situation a “category five hurricane.” Brown Political Science Professor Wendy Schiller said the poll offers mixed results for the Congressman.

“This poll clearly shows Congressman Cicilline has work to do to reconnect with the voters in his district and shore up support,” Schiiler said. “There is some good news here in that he leads Doherty slightly, and has a more convincing lead on Loughlin who ran against him in 2010. What is not clear from this poll is whether this disapproval is entirely personal, or a combination of lingering doubts about his performance as mayor and disapproval of Congress more generally.”

Schiller said a key will be whether voters focus on Cicilline’s tenure as Mayor or his current position in Washington.

“One would expect that Cicilline's approval rating as a member of Congress would improve over time as voters make the transition in how they view him but if Congress continues to disappoint voters on the economy and job opportunities, it will be harder than normal for him to take advantage of being the incumbent,” Schiller said. “The catch-22 for his Republican opponents is that in order to beat Cicilline in 2012, they have to make the point that Congress is not working well, and since the Republicans control the House of Representatives, that means attacking their own party's leadership. “

Campaign Reactions

Despite the high unfavorable number, state Democratic Party Chairman Ed Pacheco said the poll reflects the work Cicilline is doing in Washington.

“These numbers certainly reflect recognition for the work David was elected to do on behalf of the constituents of the First Congressional District,” Pacheco said. “And while the poll numbers are welcome, David's priority has and continues to be the economy and putting Rhode Islanders back to work.”

Dante Bellini, spokesman for the Doherty campaign, called the poll numbers “encouraging.”

“While the results of this poll are certainly encouraging to us, we don’t forget that there is a long way to go in this campaign,” he said. “We don’t take anything for granted. Our focus continues straight-forward. We’re simply going to work hard every single day to get our message out and earn the trust, confidence and support of the voters in Congressional District 1.”

Loughlin campaign spokesman Mike Napolitano said the numbers send a significant message considering his candidate is currently out of the country serving in Iraq.

“We have a two-to-one favorable to unfavorable ratio,” Napolitano said. “What this shows is we have a lot of room to grow our base. We’re breaking new ground here. John is not in the country and within the margin of error, this is a dead heat. What does that say?”

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