WPRI 12/RWU Poll: Sen. Whitehouse far ahead; Kavanaugh opposed in RI


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appears on track to win re-election convincingly, as his Republican challenger fails to gain traction and voters pan Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, an exclusive WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll released Monday shows.

The survey of 416 likely Rhode Island voters finds Whitehouse at 55% and Republican Robert Flanders at 36%, with 7% of voters undecided. Support for the two candidates has barely budged since the last WPRI 12/RWU poll a little over a month ago. Whitehouse, first elected in 2006, is seeking a third six-year term.

“It’s a very uphill battle for Bob Flanders,” said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducted the poll.  “The numbers have not really moved since our September survey.”

The landline and cell-phone interview poll was conducted Saturday, Oct. 20, through Wednesday, Oct. 24, 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.

Whitehouse is beating Flanders with nearly every subgroup of voters, but has particularly large leads among Democrats (90% to 6%), seniors (62% to 35%) and women (60% to 29%). Flanders has a slight edge with independents (44% to 43%) and is down by only 5 points among men.

“The independent voters are fairly even at that point, however a Republican has to do very well with independent voters to win in this election,” Fleming said. “[Flanders] really has to ramp the numbers up in the next eight days which will be very tough to do at this late date.” 

“Especially when you have a lot less money than the incumbent,” he added.

Flanders has made a major campaign issue out of Whitehouse’s handling of the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, using debates and TV ads to assail the senator’s lines of questioning.

Yet the survey shows more Rhode Island voters sided with Whitehouse than Flanders on whether the judge deserved to get the job: 50% oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, while 41% support it.

There is a large gender gap on the question. Women oppose Kavanaugh by a 22-point margin, while men support him by 5 points. Opinions also break down along partisan lines, with 81% of Republicans supporting Kavanaugh and the same share of Democrats opposing him. Independents back the justice, 52% to 39%.

“It looks like the Kavanaugh hearings did not hurt Sheldon Whitehouse at all,” said Fleming.

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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