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WPRI 12/RWU Poll: Raimondo, Fung in tight race for RI governor - again

President Trump's job approval stands at 30% in survey of Rhode Island voters

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is clinging to a slim re-election lead over her nearest Republican challenger, as barely one in three voters say they approve of the job she’s doing, an exclusive WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll released Monday shows.

The survey of 419 registered Rhode Island voters finds Raimondo at 38% and Republican Allan Fung at 36%, with 17% of voters undecided. An additional 6% of voters are supporting Republican-turned-independent Joe Trillo. Raimondo’s lead is within the margin of error.

The poll results are strikingly similar to the final outcome of the 2014 gubernatorial election, which pitted the same two candidates against each other: Raimondo came out on top that year with 41% of the vote, ahead of Fung at 36%. The late Bob Healey, running as the Moderate Party nominee, took 21%.

Raimondo fares better in a hypothetical matchup against another Republican contender, Patricia Morgan. In that scenario, Raimondo’s support ticks up to 43%, with Morgan at 25%, Trillo at 9% and undecided voters totaling 20%, the poll shows. Moderate Party Chairman Bill Gilbert and independent Luis Daniel Muñoz have negligible support.

One reason for the gap between Fung and Morgan: he is far better-known. About two out of three voters say they do not know enough about Morgan, the House GOP leader, to express a view on her; only one in four say the same about Fung, the Cranston mayor. (A third Republican, businessman Giovanni Feroce, opened his campaign account after the poll questions were finalized.)

"I think the governor’s race is very fluid at this time," said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducted the poll. He added: "The governor’s numbers are not as high as she hoped they would be. But they have the resources to try and move that needle."

The landline and cell-phone interview poll was conducted Sunday, Feb. 25, through Wednesday, Feb. 28, by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, Rhode Island. The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.8 percentage points. Fleming has been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1984.

"As we always say, the poll is just a snapshot in time," Fleming said. "This is the beginning of March; it was taken at the end of February. Come November, it could be a totally different situation. But right now it looks like it could be a very tight race again."

In both scenarios, Raimondo’s lead is based in part on the strong support she receives from Democratic and female voters. Among Democrats, she gets 63% of the vote against Fung and 72% against Morgan; among women, she gets 46% against Fung and 49% against Morgan. She is ahead among all age groups, though the gap is smaller against Fung.

Fung leads among men by 43% to 30%, while Morgan trails among men 37% to 31%. Fung also has a sizable lead among independent voters, 41% to 29%, whereas Raimondo is ahead of Morgan among independents 32% to 29%. One in five independents are undecided in a Raimondo-Fung race, and one in four are undecided in a Raimondo-Morgan race.

"So the governor is losing independent voters, which make up half the voters in Rhode Island, but she is winning very large among Democrats," Fleming said.

Joe Trillo - the former Warwick lawmaker who dropped out of the GOP primary to run as an independent - is in single-digits in both scenarios, but he has the potential to make a difference. Trillo wins 9% of Republicans if Fung is the GOP nominee and 19% if Morgan is the candidate. With Morgan in the race, he also gets 10% of independents and 11% of middle-aged voters.

Raimondo personal rating beats job rating

After three years as governor, Raimondo is viewed favorably by a majority of voters - but that doesn’t mean they’re all happy with the first-term Democrat’s job performance.

The poll shows 50% of voters have a favorable view of Raimondo, while 46% have an unfavorable view of her.

But only 37% of voters say Raimondo is doing an excellent or good job, while 30% say she is doing a fair job and 31% say she is doing a poor job.

"They like her as a person, they like her maybe as a family person, they like the way she comes across, but they don’t like the job she is doing," Fleming said. "They might be upset with the UHIP stuff, they might be upset with the economic development [incentives], or other issues they might be concerned with."

There is a significant gender gap in perceptions of Raimondo, with 44% of women saying she is doing an excellent or good job but just 30% of men agreeing. The governor’s excellent/good rating is 55% among Democrats, 29% among independents and 13% among Republicans. A larger share of each group gives her a favorable personal rating, however, including 73% of Democrats.

"The problem I think she has is her job rating is about the same as her vote," Fleming said. "If the job rating was higher, they could possibly move it up. Her favorability is higher, so there are things they can do to try and put her in a stronger position."

Raimondo’s approval and re-election numbers closely track Rhode Island voters’ broader views on the state’s situation.

The new poll shows 39% of voters think Rhode Island is going in the right direction, while 45% think it’s headed in the wrong direction. Separate surveys by Fleming for Bryant University indicate those numbers improved between 2014 and 2015 but have stayed in a fairly narrow range since then.

The most optimistic voters are Democrats, 60% of whom say the state is moving in the right direction. Women are also notably more optimistic than men, at 44% and 34%, respectively. But 73% of Republican voters and 54% of independents think the state is headed in the wrong direction.

Among Raimondo’s challengers, Fung is viewed favorably by 49% of voters and unfavorably by 26% of voters, with 25% having no opinion of him. "If I’m Allan Fung I’m fairly happy. … That tells me I have room for growth, I could get my image out there, try to move that," Fleming said. "He does very well among Republicans and independents."

Morgan is more of a mystery, with 18% of voters viewing her favorably and 13% viewing her unfavorably, but 69% having no opinion of her.

But Trillo - who chaired President Trump’s campaign in Rhode Island during the 2016 election - is already in negative territory. He is viewed unfavorably by 23% of voters, twice as many as the 11% who view him favorably. Like Morgan, Trillo is an unknown to about two-thirds of voters.

Morgan and Trillo both have work to do to build awareness among voters about their candidacies, Fleming said.

Trump unpopular; Whitehouse mixed, Reed steady

The WPRI/RWU poll also tested voters’ opinions about Republican President Donald Trump and Rhode Island’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.

The survey finds Rhode Islanders’ views on Trump are heavily negative: only 30% of voters say he is doing an excellent or good job as president, versus 54% who say he is doing a "poor" job. There is also what Fleming described as a "huge" 23-point gender gap over Trump, with just 18% of women saying he is doing an excellent or good job, compared with 41% among men.

Trump's personal ratings are only slightly higher, with 35% of voters viewing him favorably and 64% viewing him unfavorably.

Fleming said he wasn’t surprised by Trump’s numbers in light of national polling and previous election results. "This is Rhode Island, a very blue state," he said.

Whitehouse is up for re-election this year and facing two Republican challengers, state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo and former R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders. The second-term senator’s job approval is mixed, with 46% of voters saying he is doing an excellent or good job, 22% saying he is doing a fair job and 27% saying he is doing a poor job. He receives strong marks from Democrats, at 70% positive, but is at 37% with independents.

Whitehouse "does extremely well among Democrats, very poor among Republicans, and among independents he has some problems," Fleming said. "That would be a concern for me if I was running for re-election."

The job performance of Reed, who is not up for re-election until 2020, is rated excellent or good by 57% of voters in the new poll. The four-term senator’s numbers are reliably consistent: previous WPRI 12 surveys put his positive rating at 55% in 2013 and 56% in 2010.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

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