PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Republicans remain positioned to win a congressional race in Rhode Island this fall for the first time since 1992, but Democrats still have a shot at holding the seat, an exclusive 12 News/Roger Williams University poll released Thursday shows.
The survey of 254 likely voters in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District finds Republican Allan Fung at 46% and Democrat Seth Magaziner at 40%, with 9% of voters undecided and 4% supporting independent candidate Bill Gilbert, who will appear on the ballot as “Moderate.”
12 News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducted the poll, noted that Fung’s lead remains just inside the survey’s margin of error.
“It’s still relatively close,” he said. “Anything could happen.”
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The poll shows Fung’s lead is built in part on his outsized strength with Democrats, 24% of whom are backing him. “If he can hold onto that he’s going to be in a decent position, because normally Republicans don’t get a quarter of the Democratic vote,” Fleming said.
By contrast, Magaziner is only supported by 63% of Democrats in the poll, and he is trailing Fung among independents 47% to 36%. Yet those numbers may also present an opportunity for Magaziner’s campaign, Fleming said.
“If I’m Seth Magaziner looking at these numbers, I’m going to say, well, I can do things over the next four weeks to get Democratic voters to come back home to me,” Fleming said.
The cellphone and landline interview poll was conducted Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 6.2 percentage points in the 2nd District. Fleming has been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1984.
Strikingly, the new 12 News/RWU poll finds Fung leading Magaziner by the exact same margin as he did over three months ago in the last public survey — 6 percentage points — even after a barrage of negative TV ads aimed at both candidates as well as major national news developments.
Fung and Magaziner are battling to succeed outgoing Democrat Jim Langevin, who has represented the 2nd District for 22 years but unexpectedly announced his retirement in January. Fung, a former Cranston mayor and two-time gubernatorial nominee, is seen by House Republican leaders as one of their top recruits.
The contest is drawing national attention not only because of how rare it is for a Republican to be leading a race for federal office in Southern New England, but also because the GOP needs to pick up just a few seats around the country in order to wrest control of the House from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats.
“The balance of Congress is at stake,” Fleming said. “They don’t know what is going to happen nationally — we think the Republicans are going to control Congress, but who knows? This could be a crucial seat in the end.”
The new poll shows a clear gender gap, with Fung ahead among male voters and Magaziner winning female voters. There is a divide by age, as well, with Magaziner leading among younger voters ages 18 to 39 but Fung ahead among voters 40 and older.
The survey finds that the rising cost of living is by far the single best issue in this year’s election for the largest bloc of 2nd District voters, named by 42% of poll respondents. Fung and the Republicans have focused their messaging heavily on economic issues.
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Abortion ranks a distant second behind the cost of living, named as the top election issue by 14% of 2nd District voters. Magaziner and the Democrats have attacked Fung relentlessly on that issue in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Voters in the 2nd District are also unhappy about current trends in the state, with 48% saying Rhode Island is headed in the wrong direction versus 35% who say the state is headed in the right direction.
Fung and Magaziner are set to face off in their first TV debate live on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. on WPRI 12. The debate will take place at the Providence Performing Arts Center. A limited number of seats at PPAC will be available to members of the public, and tickets can be reserved online.
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Biden tops Trump in RI for 2024
The new 12 News/RWU poll also took an early look at how the 2024 presidential race would play out in Rhode Island if the country sees a rematch between incumbent Democrat Joe Biden and the Republican he defeated in 2020, Donald Trump.
The statewide survey of 402 voters shows Biden would beat Trump by double-digits in Rhode Island, 49% to 32%, if the election were held today. Another 15% of voters said they are undecided about a second Biden-Trump matchup, while 5% of respondents refused to answer the question.
Biden’s 17-point margin over Trump in the new poll is only slightly smaller than his 21-point margin of victory in Rhode Island in 2020, when the Democrat won the state 59% to 39%.
Biden runs strongest with Democrats, women and younger voters, while Trump has a slight edge among independents. The current president also runs stronger among members of his own party than his predecessor: Biden is backed by 73% of Democrats, whereas Trump is only backed by 66% of Republicans.
Fleming described the results as unsurprising considering a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won Rhode Island since 1984.
Looking at Biden’s numbers, he said, “If you’re within a couple points among independents and you’re getting 73% of the Democratic vote — which is 41% of voters in the state — you’re in great shape to start, and that’s what we’re seeing in here.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook