PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – A majority of Rhode Island voters say state leaders were right not to offer the Pawtucket Red Sox owners more public money to keep the team, an exclusive WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll released Thursday shows.
The survey of 420 likely voters finds only 38% think Rhode Island leaders should have offered more taxpayer support to keep the team in Pawtucket, while 51% say they made the correct decision by refusing. About one in 10 voters aren’t sure.
After three years of on-again, off-again negotiations in Rhode Island, Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello green-lighted a bill in June to help the PawSox finance a new $83-million stadium in Pawtucket, but with no taxpayer backstop for the debt. Team owners balked, and instead accepted an offer for Worcester to borrow $101 million for a new ballpark there. Rhode Island leaders have said they never could have matched that.
“I don’t know if the voters are saying ‘good riddance’ to the Pawtucket Red Sox,” said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducts the poll. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to spend taxpayers’ money to keep the Pawtucket Red Sox here.’ I think if you said to them, ‘Do you want the Pawtucket Red Sox to stay in Rhode Island?’ the answer would be yes.”
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.
The survey results are a vindication of sorts for Mattiello, who has faced vociferous criticism from some quarters for dragging his feet on the PawSox issue and then backing legislation the team would not support. The speaker has said repeatedly he did not believe Rhode Island taxpayers were comfortable with a major generous offer.
The only subgroup of voters that supported offering more taxpayer support to keep the team was Republicans, with 47% in favor and 42% opposed. But the margin of error for the GOP is much larger than it is for the overall poll because Rhode Island has so few registered Republican voters.
The results are similar to those in a February poll Fleming conducted that was commissioned by union groups which supported the ballpark. That poll found 53% of voters opposed using taxpayers’ money to build a new stadium, though 75% said they wanted leaders to work together to keep the team in Rhode Island.
“I think people still have 38 Studios in the back of their minds,” Fleming said, referring to the state’s failed $75-million loan-guarantee for Curt Schilling’s video-game company. “So that’s always a concern they have.”
Indeed, Rhode Islanders expressed concern about the 38 Studios deal from the start. A WPRI 12 poll back in September 2010, when the transaction was being finalized, found 54% of voters opposed the deal, with only 28% in favor of it.