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Updated: Thursday, 28 Feb 2013, 8:42 PM EST
Published : Thursday, 28 Feb 2013, 9:06 AM EST
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - More than half of Rhode Island voters support allowing same-sex marriage in the state, while many opponents of the idea say it conflicts with their religious beliefs, according to a new poll released Thursday by Brown University.
The survey of 593 voters also found Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, a likely candidate for governor next year, is the most popular politician in Rhode Island with a job approval rating of 64%. Another potential candidate, Treasurer Gina Raimondo, scored a 56% approval rating. Gov. Lincoln Chafee's approval rating is a dismal 26%.
"Lincoln Chafee still has not been able to move his numbers after over two years as governor," WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. "His numbers are staying dismal. He just can't seem to get it moving. People just don't approve of the job that he's doing."
Rhode Islanders' feelings about the economy remain extremely grim: 94% of voters say the state's economy is "not so good" or "poor," and 84% say the same about the national economy. However, voters draw a distinction between their personal situations and the broader economy, with 57% saying their own finances are in good or excellent shape.
The telephone interview poll was conducted Feb. 21 to 23 by Brown's Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4 percentage points on questions asked of all voters.
Elderly opposed to gay marriage
Brown's findings mirror other recent surveys conducted by WPRI 12 and Public Policy Polling that also showed majority support for same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. The House of Representatives has passed a bill backed by Governor Chafee to legalize the practice, but Senate leaders are opposed and say they're in no rush to take it up.
The poll found 60% of Rhode Island voters favor allowing same-sex couples to marry, while 26% oppose it, 10% aren't sure and 4% say it depends. More than half of voters on both sides say they hold strong opinions about the issue.
Broken down by generation, Brown found majority support for same-sex marriage across all age groups up to voters in their 60s; the only group with less than 50% in favor are those age 70 and up. The highest support was among voters ages 30 to 39, among whom 89% say they favor same-sex marriage.
The top reason supporters cited for backing same-sex marriage was a belief in equal rights for gays, while the top reason opponents cited for their opinion was religious beliefs. On both sides, more than half of those polled say they hold strong opinions about the marriage question.
"This poll affirms what we are hearing on the phones and at people's doors - a growing majority of Rhode Islanders strongly support marriage equality," Ray Sullivan, campaign director for the pro-legalization group Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, said in a statement.
Chafee 'needs a 3-way race'
Governor Chafee remains deeply unpopular two years after he won the governor's office as an independent with 36% of the vote in a four-way race.
The Brown poll found a whopping 42% of voters think Chafee is doing a poor job as governor and 30% say his performance is only fair, the worst report card the voters gave any elected official in the new survey. Chafee has said he'll run for re-election next year despite his apparent popularity.
While Chafee's numbers are dismal, Fleming said it's too early to rule out the possibility the incumbent could find a way to win next year. He noted that Congressman David Cicilline won re-election last fall even though his statewide approval rating is only 27% in the new Brown poll.
"With Lincoln Chafee running as an independent, the question is, how many people are running for governor?" Fleming said. "He needs a three-way race with at least two other strong candidates to have a shot at winning again." A WPRI 12 poll last September found only 18% of voters definitely planned to vote for Chafee in 2014.
Mayor, treasurer in good shape
The poll has good news for Taveras and Raimondo, both of whom are considering whether to seek the Democratic nomination for governor next year. Only 10% of voters rate the treasurer's performance as poor, and even fewer - 6% - rate the mayor's work that way. The two are also nearly as familiar to voters as the governor and congressional delegation.
"Taveras and Raimondo, two independent-thinking politicians in Rhode Island, have a lot of confidence from voters right now," Fleming said. Both of them are taking the first important step toward making a statewide run by raising money to fund their campaigns, he said, though he noted that former Treasurer Frank Caprio placed third in 2010 despite spending $2.7 million.
"It could set up a very interesting Democratic primary if they both decide to run for governor," Fleming added.
Among other politicians, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed has a 54% approval rating and remains a heavy favorite to win a fourth term next year. Around half of voters disapprove of the job performance of House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is the least-known major politician halfway through his first term, with 34% of voters saying they don't have an opinion about Kilmartin.
Only 21% see right track
Rhode Island voters continue to be concerned about the state's future. More than half of those surveyed - 63% - say Rhode Island is off on the wrong track, while only 21% say Rhode Island is headed in the right direction.
However, those numbers have improved since February 2009, when the share of voters telling Brown the state was on the wrong track peaked at 80%. In January 2007, the month Rhode Island's economy began losing jobs, only 34% said the state was on the wrong track.
The poll also tested how confident Rhode Islanders feel about different political leaders, with President Obama much more trusted than state leaders.
The president scored a 52% approval rating in the state, with 49% of voters saying they approve of the president's handling of the economy, compared with 43% who disapprove.
Dems more trusted than GOP
At the state level, 30% of voters say they have no confidence at all that state governments officials will make the right decisions for the future, and 51% say they have "just some" confidence. Only 16% say they have a good amount of confidence in state leaders' decisions and less than 1% say they have a great amount.
Despite those concerns, voters expressed more confidence in state lawmakers who belong to the Democratic Party, which has controlled the General Assembly for decades, than Republican legislators. In November voters elected 101 Democrats, 11 Republicans and one independent to the House and Senate.
The poll found 36% of voters have no confidence in Republican lawmakers, compared with 29% who have no confidence in Democratic lawmakers, while 14% have a great or good amount of confidence in the Republicans and 23% have that level of confidence in the Democrats.
Copyright WPRI 12
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