PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A majority of Rhode Island voters say Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has been taking the right approach to reopening the state in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The survey by Bryant University’s Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership found 66% of Rhode Islanders think Raimondo is moving at the right pace, while 25% think she is going too slow and 8% think she is going too fast. That is somewhat less support than the the 81% approval rating on coronavirus that Raimondo scored in a previous survey the institute conducted in April.
Opinions vary significant among subgroups of voters. While 72% of women say the governor is moving at the right pace, only 59% of men agree. Fully 75% of seniors think Raimondo is getting it right, versus only 58% of middle-aged voters. And Republicans are split nearly evenly, with 48% backing Raimondo and 46% wanting a speedier reopening.
Asked what advice he’d give Raimondo based on the polling results, Hassenfeld Institute director Gary Sasse said, “Stay the course because you have the public behind you on managing the biggest crisis this country has had in a hundred years.” Most of those who disagree with the governor are “Republican outliers” loyal to President Trump, he said.
The poll of 400 registered Rhode Island voters was conducted via landline and cell-phone interviews from June 18 through June 22 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, Rhode Island. (Fleming has also been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1984.) The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.9 percentage points.
Rhode Islanders are feeling different levels of readiness to resume some activities versus others, according to the poll.
About two-thirds of voters feel comfortable with retail shopping, going to work or getting a haircut. But just 48% feel comfortable attending a religious service, and only 46% are ready to send K-12 students back to school this fall. More than half — 52% — said they are still uncomfortable dining in a restaurant.
“I thought the results were fairly mixed,” Sasse said.
The survey also asked Rhode Islanders for their take on a dozen different issues facing the state, and found two ranked as voters’ biggest concerns. Health care costs were cited as a problem by 82% of voters, with 60% calling medical expenses “a big problem.” The state’s budget deficit was also a significant worry, with the same number calling it a problem and 54% calling it “a big problem.”
Sasse said voters want Raimondo to focus in particular on health care and the deficit as she prioritizes what to grapple with in the coming months. “It was all bread-and-butter issues,” he said.
Unemployment came next in the poll, ranked as a problem by 76% of voters. It was followed by a tie between race relations and the rich-poor income gap, both at 71%.
About two-thirds of voters expressed concern about the ability of the state’s political leaders to solve problems or about local property taxes. And more than half were worried about state taxes, the impact of business or unions on government, police misconduct and distancing learning.
Testing voters’ attitudes toward regionalizing municipal services in Rhode Island, the poll found majority support for the idea, with 50% backing regionalization of schools. But Sasse said he was more struck by the fact that 36% of voters oppose school regionalization, a minority he described as a solid base of support to build local opposition against any move in that direction.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook