PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s approach to battling coronavirus is winning over a significant number of voters who haven’t supported her in the past, a new poll shows.
The survey by Bryant University’s Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership found 81% of Rhode Islanders say Raimondo has done either an excellent job (44%) or a good job (37%) dealing with the pandemic, while 14% described her efforts as “just fair.” Only 4% called her work “poor.”
The numbers are startlingly high for a two-term governor who has never scored well in public opinion surveys. Polling over the years by WPRI 12 and the website Morning Consult has never put her general job approval rating at or above 50%, although she did win re-election with a majority of the vote in 2018.
Yet the results mirror other data nationwide showing voters in many states rallying behind their governors amid the crisis. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker received an 80% approval rating for his handling of coronavirus in a late March poll by The Boston Globe and Suffolk University. Baker, a Republican, is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s most popular governors.
Rhode Islanders are far less enthusiastic about President Trump’s leadership in the crisis.
Nearly half of the state’s voters – 47% – said Trump is doing a poor job handling the situation, and an additional 17% graded his work as “just fair.” But 34% rated the Republican president’s performance as excellent or good.
There was a similar gap when it comes to where Rhode Islanders think they can get trustworthy information about coronavirus. While 86% said they trust information from public health officials and 84% said they trust information from Raimondo, only 35% said they trust information provided by Trump. In all, 61% said they distrust what the president says.
The poll of 410 registered Rhode Island voters was conducted via landline and cell-phone interviews from Wednesday, April 15, through Saturday, April 18, 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 also been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1984.)
“The spring of 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the institute,” said Gary Sasse, executive director of the Hassenfeld Institute. “Unfortunately, it coincided with the global pandemic. In light of these circumstances, as a public service the institute has decided that this was the right time to examine the public’s perception of leadership during this crisis.”
A deeper dive into the numbers show one group of Rhode Island voters remains solidly behind President Trump: self-identified Republicans, 80% of whom rated his handling of the crisis as excellent or good. Independent voters were more divided, with 42% rating him positively and 55% rating him negatively.
Raimondo received high marks from all groups of voters in the survey; even 58% of Republicans said she has done an excellent or good job so far. Her highest ratings came from the lowest-earning voters, those making $25,000 a year or less, and the highest-earning ones, those making at least $200,000.
The survey offers a window into the deepening economic crisis set off by coronavirus, as well. More than half of Rhode Island voters said the pandemic has already had a great impact (16%) or a moderate impact (37%) on their family finances, while 23% said it has had little impact so far and 22% said it has had no impact.
The poll found strong voter support for the federal government taking an expanded role in various policy areas in light of the crisis, with just over half saying Congress should do more on health care and income security, while even more – 62% – said so about education technology.
While a plurality of voters said they were less likely to donate to a candidate or volunteer for a political cause in the wake of coronavirus, the vast majority – 82% – said they were more likely to vote, and 61% said they were more likely to express their views to elected officials.
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