Rhode Islanders’ Rage Fuels Trump and Sanders Victories

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


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Bernie Sanders (pictured) and Donald Trump won the RI vote on Tuesday.

An anti-establishment movement is afoot in Rhode Island. 

Republican Presidential front runner Donald Trump and Democratic underdog Bernie Sanders both cruised to victories in the presidential primaries in Rhode Island on Tuesday, signaling a sentiment from voters that they are not happy with the status quo — and are voicing their anger with votes. 

GoLocal had raised the question back in August 2015 - could voter dissatisfaction translate into Trump and Sanders wins in Rhode Island? (Read the article HERE).

“It was a big night for Trump. He crushed the opposition and did well in many parts of the state. Similar to Massachusetts, he ran strongly due to his support among those upset with government and among Independents who feel like the system is rigged,” said Darrell West, Vice President of Governance Studies at Brookings — and former Director of the Taubman Center at Brown University.  “In doing well, he continued his pattern of winning in the Northeast and Midwest. He has moved much closer to building the coalition necessary for the GOP nomination.”

Trump won with 63.6% of the vote, with John Kasich garnering 24.3% and Ted Cruz getting 10.4%

See RI Election Results HERE

The bigger story of the day however was Sanders usurping opponent Hillary Clinton’s previous political dominance in Rhode Island (she topped Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary in Rhode Island).  

READ: Sanders Win is Another Blow to Governor Raimondo

Sanders won Tuesday with 54.7% of the Democratic primary, to Clinton’s 43.1%.

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Voters in Rhode Island turned out on Tuesday to support the parties' anti-establishment candidates.

“Rhode Island has long been branded 'Clinton Country,' and the photo ops with Rhode Island state officials and the congressional delegation standing in support of the candidate was a strong signal that Hilary Clinton is the Rhode Island Democratic Party establishment’s choice,” said Rhode Island College Professor of Communications Val Endress. “Such symbolism may have bolstered her numbers in previous elections, but Rhode Islanders, much like the rest of the country, is in an anti-establishment mood and that's what we saw play out in the Rhode Island victories of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Public discontent over the long slog to economic recovery and a Congress that has been nearly paralyzed by hyper-partisanship has influenced the public’s mindset toward elected officials at nearly level.”

Trump swept all five Republican primaries on Tuesday, winning in Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania, while Clinton took four of the five -- with Rhode Island playing the spoiler.

Turning to the General 

“Assuming that Clinton is the Democratic nominee, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see her return to Rhode Island to campaign during the general election,” said Endress.  Sanders has said he will stay in the race until the Democratic convention. 

“High millennial turnout in Rhode Island is particularly significant because, if these young voters perceive that they played a role in Sanders' win, they will have an expectation that Clinton will have to earn their support in the general election,” said Endress. “There will be some inclination for Sanders' millennial supporters to sit out the general election, and no candidate can afford that.  Look for Rhode Island and several of the upcoming states in which Sanders may register a win to continue to push Clinton toward a more progressive agenda.”

Roger Williams University Professor of Political Science June Speakman, who ran as a Clinton delegate, cited the role of the independent voter in an open primary system as the critical factor. 

“The fact that independents could vote in either party's contest certainly helped Sanders as did the disaffection with the establishment that has been showing up in recent polls.  Whether these voters will remain engaged if Clinton is the eventual nominee is one of this campaign's many mysteries,” said Speakman.  “Trump's victory, which several months ago, would have seemed unthinkable, is no longer surprising.  Cruz's weak showing is predictable, as Rhode Islanders don't have much appetite for his evangelical fervor.”


Related Slideshow: 5 Shocking Facts from the 2016 RI Presidential Primary

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The Outcome Should Scare All Incumbents

If you add the votes of the former socialist Mayor of Burlington, Vermont with those of the former reality TV star together, they garnered over 60.5% of the vote in the Rhode Island Presidential Primary.

In contrast, the combined vote of the former U.S. Secretary of State, a sitting United States Senator and a Governor of one of the most important political states combined for just 39.5%.

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Feel the Bern

Every Bernie Sanders delegate candidate received more votes than the top delegate running for Clinton. Think about that.

Most of the delegates for Sanders are political newcomers. Many of Clinton’s delegate candidates were party leaders or from top political families.

Clinton’s delegates included Gubernatorial candidates Clay Pell and Myrth York, Elorza’s top staffer Brett Smiley and members of power Democratic families like Paolino and Weiner.

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Turnout for Democrats Way Down from 2008

In the historic primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008, more than 189,000 voted in the Democratic primary. 

In 2016, 119,000 Rhode Islanders voted in the Democratic primary — a decrease of 37 percent in total voters.

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GOP Turnout Increased - Is Rhode Island Getting More Conservative?

In 2008, the GOP Presidential primary turnout in Rhode Island was 26,996. Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain won 64 percent of the vote in Rhode Island.

In 2008, seven times as many Rhode Islanders voted in the Democratic primary as voted in the GOP primary.

2016 Flip

Trump helped to drive 61,394 total votes to the GOP primary in 2016 — a 127 percent increase in voter turnout. 

The ratio dropped to just two-to-one voting in the number of voters in the Democratic primary versus the GOP.

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"Throw Them All Out"

The Brown University poll released Sunday found that the majority of Rhode Islanders believe the state is on the "wrong track."

Nearly every Democratic elected official in Rhode Island publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton including, Governor Raimondo, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. 

The only group that endorsed Bernie Sanders was small and included State Senator James Sheehan and State Rep Raymond Hull to name two.

On the GOP side, many of the traditional party leaders supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, but as they fell from the race they shifted to Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.  

The political power structure in Rhode Island was soundly defeated on Tuesday. 


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