PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After a brief burst of relative optimism last year, Rhode Island voters’ opinions about the state’s future have turned sharply negative once again, new polling data shows.
A new survey of 403 registered Rhode Island voters shows only 31% think the state is heading in the right direction, while 50% now say it’s headed in the wrong direction. Less than a year ago, in September, it was a different story – voters were evenly split, with only 40% saying the state was moving in the wrong direction.
The survey was commissioned by Bryant University’s Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership and conducted by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, which also polls for WPRI 12. It was conducted April 30 to May 3 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The reversal in public opinion is particularly striking since it comes despite employment data showing slow but steady improvement in Rhode Island’s job market. The share of voters who told Fleming the state was moving in the wrong direction had peaked at 72% back in May 2010, shortly after the worst of the recession, then trended down in seven consecutive surveys through last fall.
“This wrong direction is by far not the worst numbers I’ve seen over my career polling in Rhode Island,” Fleming said. “But the concern is the trend is starting to go negative. We have three surveys now, from September, January, and May, where you’re starting to see a trend and that’s the trend you’ve got to try and negate.”
Fleming suggested voters are less concerned with the economy as it’s improved but have been alarmed by controversies at the State House such as the debate over truck tolls, the tourism campaign debacle, and the resignation of former House Finance Committee Chairman Ray Gallison amid a law enforcement probe.
Gary Sasse, who heads the Hassenfeld Institute, said that while most of the polling was conducted before the Gallison affair began making headlines, he thinks economic concerns could still be playing a role in voters’ unhappiness, particularly worries about the quality of jobs being created in the economic recovery.
The new poll results were released the same day a separate survey conducted over recent months showed Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s disapproval rating has shot up by 14 percentage points, reinforcing the idea that voters are growing frustrated.
While Raimondo is not up for re-election until 2018, Fleming said she will need to start turning around public opinion over the next year if she wants to be in a position to win a second term.
“Obviously, if the voters feel the state’s moving in the right direction it’s going to be a lot easier for an incumbent – the incumbent’s going to be able to sell the fact people see things improving,” he said, noting that voters’ opinions were improving in the early months of Raimondo’s term before the current reversal.
The new Bryant poll’s other questions focused on education policy.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram