WPRI 12/RWU Poll: Raimondo re-election lead grows; Whitehouse far ahead

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic incumbent Gina Raimondo has gained an edge in the race for governor, as a crowded field and discontent with President Trump hamper her opponents, an exclusive WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll released Thursday shows.

The survey of 420 likely Rhode Island voters finds Raimondo at 43% and Republican Allan Fung at 36%, with 9% of voters undecided. Republican-turned-independent Joe Trillo is at 7%, and 4% of voters are backing other candidates. The previous WPRI/RWU poll in late July was significantly closer, with Raimondo at 39% and Fung at 37%.

“The headline we see now is Gina Raimondo has actually opened up a lead,” said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducts the poll. The survey was taken just after Raimondo’s 24-point primary victory over Matt Brown, which was a larger win than most political observers had predicted.

“There is no question the primary has given her a bump in the numbers at this point,” Fleming said. “It’s still early – it’s still a long way to go before the election in November – but right now she has pulled away with a 7-point lead.”

Raimondo, Fung and Trillo are set to meet for their first televised gubernatorial debate in one week on WPRI 12. It will be broadcast live from Roger Williams University next Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m.

In the race for U.S. Senate, the poll shows Democratic incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse comfortably ahead of his Republican challenger, former R.I. Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders. The poll finds Whitehouse at 54% and Flanders at 35%, with one in 10 voters still undecided.

“Bob Flanders still has to get better-known,” Fleming said. “He’s trying to do that right now with his advertising, but again, he has to ramp up, to spend a lot more money. Sheldon Whitehouse has a big financial advantage, and if he keeps using that, it’s going to be very difficult for Bob Flanders.”

The landline and cell-phone interview poll was conducted Friday, Sept. 14, through Monday, Sept. 17, 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.

Fung’s poll numbers have been consistent this year: he has had the backing of 36% or 37% of voters in all three WPRI/RWU polls conducted since February. Fung’s current support mirrors the 36% share of the vote he received against Raimondo when they faced off in the 2014 election for governor.

“Allan Fung’s numbers are about what they’ve been in every poll we’ve done,” Fleming said. “At this point, I would be concerned that he can’t get his numbers to move – if I were a Fung adviser, we would have to come up with a plan to move Fung’s numbers up to the 40% range.”

Raimondo’s lead is built on strong support from Democrats (59% to Fung’s 21%) and female voters (50% to Fung’s 30%). She and Fung are effectively tied among independents, with about 38% each. Fung is ahead among male voters (43% to Raimondo’s 36%), but he also appears to be losing votes to Trillo, who is capturing 11% of Republicans and 9% of independents.

“I think he can’t let Joe Trillo get any higher in the polls,” Fleming said of Fung. “If Joe Trillo keeps moving, I really think he’s taking votes from Allan Fung. So I think Allan Fung has to come up with a plan that holds Joe Trillo where he is.”

President Trump’s weak standing in Rhode Island is a headwind for fellow Republicans Fung and Flanders, as well as for Trillo, who was the president’s 2016 campaign chairman in Rhode Island. The poll finds 54% of voters think Trump is doing a poor job, up from 44% in July, while only 31% think he is doing an excellent or good job. Nearly half of independents, Rhode Island’s largest voter bloc, give Trump a job rating of poor.

“I think Allan Fung has to try and distance himself,” Fleming said. “In some ways, the problem he has is if he distances himself from Donald Trump too much, those Trump voters who are supporting him have an alternative: Joe Trillo.”

Among the other candidates on the ballot for governor, Moderate Party nominee Bill Gilbert received 1.7%, independent Compassion Party candidate Anne Armstrong received 1.4%, and independent Luis Daniel Muñoz received 0.5%.

Half of voters like Raimondo, Fung; Trillo underwater

Raimondo and Fung are evenly matched when it comes to voters’ views about them personally.

Raimondo’s favorable rating is 50% – identical to the previous two WPRI/RWU polls – while her unfavorable rating is 47%. She is viewed favorably by 64% of Democrats and 56% of female voters, but only 46% of independents and 43% of male voters.

“People’s opinions of Gina are set – there is not a lot of movement,” Fleming said. “About half of the people have a favorable opinion of her; almost half have an unfavorable opinion.”

Fung’s favorable rating is also 50%, down from 56% in the July poll but the same as February. His unfavorable rating increased to 35%, up from 31% in July and 26% last winter, while roughly one in six voters had no opinion. Fung is viewed favorably by 52% of independents and 57% of male voters, but only 37% of Democrats and 43% of female voters. He is at 79% favorable with Republicans.

Raimondo is on shakier ground when voters assess her first-term performance.

The poll shows only 38% of voters think Raimondo is doing an excellent or good job as governor, while 27% think she is doing a fair job and 33% think she is doing a poor job. Those numbers have changed little over the course of the year. There is a significant gender gap, with 46% of female voters rating her performance as excellent or good but only 30% of male voters saying the same.

Raimondo’s job rating closely tracks voters’ views on conditions in Rhode Island.

The poll shows 39% of voters think Rhode Island is headed in the right direction, while 42% say the state is moving in the wrong direction. There is more optimism among Democrats (52% right direction) and female voters (45%) than among independents (36%) and male voters (33%).

“There has been very little movement since February,” Fleming said. “Voters still think Rhode Island is going in the wrong direction, but it’s getting close to breaking even. People’s minds haven’t changed much in one direction or another.”

Trillo, the independent candidate, remains unknown to many voters, and more disliked than liked among those with an opinion. While 21% of voters view Trillo favorably, 36% view him unfavorably and 44% have yet to decide what they think about him. His net favorability rating is negative among all subgroups.

Fleming said the televised debates that start next week could be crucial for Trillo, just as they were for Moderate Party nominee Bob Healey, who surged to 21% in 2014. “You’re going to see Joe Trillo in action,” Fleming said. “The voters will get a first-hand look – for some people it will be the first time people get to see who Joe Trillo is.”

Whitehouse currently edging Flanders with independents

In the U.S. Senate race, Sheldon Whitehouse’s lead is built on overwhelming support among Democrats (78%), as well as the strong backing of female voters (62%), seniors (58%), and younger voters (56%). He is also slightly ahead among independents, with 44% backing Whitehouse and 41% backing Flanders. The pair are roughly tied among male voters.

Fleming said Flanders needs to boost his name recognition quickly if he has any hope of unseating Whitehouse. “He’s trying to do that right now with his advertising, but he has to ramp up, to spend a lot more,” Fleming said. “Sheldon Whitehouse has a big financial advantage, and if he keeps using that, it’s going to be very difficult for Bob Flanders.”

The Whitehouse campaign will try to tie Flanders to Trump due to the president’s dismal job rating in Rhode Island, Fleming said, though Flanders is already trying to counteract that in a TV spot that suggests he will break with Trump when necessary.

“If you vote for Flanders, you’ll be keeping the Republicans in charge of the U.S. Senate, which helps Donald Trump; by voting with Sheldon Whitehouse, you are taking it out of Donald Trump’s hands,” Fleming said. “We’ve seen the same scenario when Sheldon Whitehouse ran against Lincoln Chafee in 2006, saying that a vote for Chafee was a vote for keeping [then-President] Bush controlling the Senate.”

“If it worked then, I think he’s going to use it again now,” Fleming added.

Another boost for Whitehouse: he is getting positive reviews for his work in the Senate.

The poll finds 50% of voters think Whitehouse is doing an excellent or good job as a senator, while 17% think he is doing a fair job and 27% think he is doing a poor job. Fleming pointed out that 44% of independents give Whitehouse a rating of excellent or good.

“If I’m the Whitehouse campaign, I’m very happy with that number,” he said.

Whitehouse’s numbers have showed improvement since he took office. He won his 2006 U.S. Senate race against then-Republican Lincoln Chafee with 54% of the vote. But halfway through his term, in January 2010, only 33% of voters rated Whitehouse’s job performance as excellent or good. Two years later, in 2012, he won re-election with about two-thirds of the vote over Republican Barry Hinckley.

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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