PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Gov. Lincoln Chafee's approval rating remains dismal nearly halfway through his first term, while his potential 2014 rivals Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras are widely popular, according to an exclusive WPRI 12 poll released Tuesday evening.
In addition, the new survey of 501 likely voters in Rhode Island shows Democrat Barack Obama far ahead of Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential race, with Obama at 57%, Romney at 33% and 7% of voters undecided. Four years ago Obama defeated John McCain 63% to 35% in heavily Democratic Rhode Island.
Obama is winning 93% of Democrats, while Romney is winning 85% of Republicans. The two candidates are tied at 42% among independents, with 14% undecided. Romney is getting 39% of the vote in the 2nd Congressional District but just 27% in the 1st District.
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"The Democrats are coming home," WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said.
The telephone interview poll with 501 likely Rhode Island voters was conducted last Wednesday through Saturday by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.38 percentage points on statewide questions and 6.2 points on questions in a congressional district.
Gov strongest with Dems
Chafee's standing, while still poor, has improved since the February WPRI 12 poll.
The Republican-turned-independent governor's job performance is rated excellent or good by 29% of voters - up from 21% in February - while 67% rate his performance as fair or poor, improved from 75% in February. Chafee won office in 2010 with 36% of the vote in a four-way race.
One group of voters is significantly warmer to Chafee than others: Democrats. The governor's approval rating is 43% among Democrats, compared with 22% among independents and 12% among Republicans. In no other subgroup does more than one-third of voters approve of Chafee's job performance.
Chafee has said he plans to run for re-election in 2014 but has brushed aside suggestions he may join the Democratic Party to do so. Fleming said Chafee's approval rating may be the lowest since the final years of former Gov. Ed DiPrete's 1985-91 tenure, when the three-term Republican was dogged by questions about a land deal in Cranston.
Republicans like two Democrats
Treasurer Raimondo and Mayor Taveras - two first-term Democrats often mentioned as potential candidates for governor in two years - remain the most popular politicians in Rhode Island.
The treasurer and the mayor have identical approval ratings of 58%, while 21% rate her job performance as fair or poor and 15% rate his that way. Raimondo is slightly better-known than Taveras: the share of voters with no opinion about the treasurer is 21%, compared with 27% for the mayor.
Fleming said the numbers are impressive for both officials, adding that Raimondo is extremely well-known considering her job is often low-profile. "For a general treasurer, this sort of name recognition is huge," he said.
Among subgroups, Taveras and Raimondo are both more popular with Republicans than members of their own Democratic Party. Raimondo's approval rating is 65% among Republicans, 59% among Democrats and 54% among independents; Taveras's is 61% among Republicans, 59% among Democrats and 56% among independents.
Ironically, Raimondo is more popular with men (63% approve) and Taveras is more popular with women (57% approve). And the two officials' efforts to cut pension benefits haven't hurt them much with organized labor: among union households Raimondo's approval rating is 60% and Taveras's is 55%.
Numbers improve for Obama, Reed
Like most other Rhode Island Democrats, President Obama's approval is up this year.
The president's job performance is rated excellent or good by 52% of voters - up from 44% in February - while 45% rate his performance as fair or poor, improved from 55% in February. Obama's improvement is largely thanks to his 86% approval rating among Democrats; only 36% of independents and 13% of Republicans approve of the job he's doing.
Obama is doing much better in the 1st Congressional District, where he has a 58% approval rating, than in the 2nd Congressional District, where he gets only 47%. "The 1st District is blue; the 2nd District is light blue," Fleming said. "The president's approval rating shows it."
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, the elder statesman of Rhode Island's congressional delegation, is steady as ever.
The senior senator's job performance is rated excellent or good by 53% of voters, basically unchanged from February, but the share of voters who rate his performance as fair or poor has improved from 45% to 37% over the last eight months.
Reed's strongest constituencies are Democrats (77% approve), voters age 60 and up (63% approve) and union households (62% approve), while his weakest ones are Republicans (31% approve), voters ages 18 to 39 (39% approve) and independents (40% approve).
Only Reed backed by majority
Poll results released Monday showed statewide approval ratings of 45% for U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, 41% for Congressman Jim Langevin and 30% for Congressman David Cicilline. Cicilline is more popular in his district than he is statewide, while Langevin is actually more popular in Cicilline's district than in his own.
Whitehouse, Langevin and Cicilline are all leading their GOP opponents ahead of the November election.
Rhode Islanders' key policy concern by far is the economy and jobs, cited by 54% of voters as their most important issue. Health care was a distant second, cited by 18% of voters.
Asked whether they consider Social Security and Medicare or the national debt to be a bigger issue, the poll finds most Rhode Island voters are more concerned with the two benefit programs for senior citizens by 64% to 32%. The exception was Republicans, 61% of whom cited the national debt as the bigger issue.
Copyright WPRI 12
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