PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo are locked in a tight battle for the Democratic nomination for governor, with Taveras holding a slight lead but one in four primary voters still undecided, an exclusive WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll released Wednesday shows.
The new survey of 503 likely Rhode Island Democratic primary voters puts Taveras on top at 31%, with Raimondo close behind at 27% and political newcomer Clay Pell further back at 15%. An even larger share of primary voters – 25% – haven’t decided whom they’ll support in the Sept. 9 election. Perennial candidate Todd Giroux is at 1%.
“The Democratic primary for governor is wide open at this time and very much undecided,” WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. “That’s not surprising at all. It’s the month of February – none of the campaigns have started to zero in on their message. None of the campaigns have started to do heavy media buys at all, and because of this the voters do not have a clear opinion of the candidates.”
“This is a first-shot primary picture,” he added. “It’s very much in flux, and it could change greatly between now and September.”
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The landline and cell-phone interview poll was conducted Monday, Feb. 3 through Thursday, Feb. 6 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.38 percentage points. Fleming has been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1982.
Fleming said the Democratic primary for governor reminds him a bit of the general election for governor four years ago in 2010, when three viable candidates – Democrat Frank Caprio, then-independent Lincoln Chafee and Republican John Robitaille – traded positions over the course of the campaign.
“It shows there’s a lot of movement that can happen in this race,” he said.
Taveras’s small lead over Raimondo is partly thanks to his double-digit advantages among 18- to 39-year-olds and voters in union households, as well as his 9-point advantage among self-identified Democrats. Raimondo, by contrast, has slight edges over Taveras among independent voters and those ages 60 and older.
Fleming said the numbers show why the Raimondo campaign will want to attract more independents to vote in the Democratic primary, whereas “if I’m the Taveras campaign I want to see Democrats out voting in the primary instead of independents.” Raimondo may need a turnout of 125,000 to 140,000 voters to win the primary, he said.
While Taveras leads among both men and women, there is a small gender gap when it comes to Raimondo – her support is at 30% among men compared with 25% among women. In addition, 28% of women primary voters remain undecided in the governor’s race, compared with 21% of men. Fleming said that will likely be a focus for the Raimondo campaign.
“It’s something that Gina has to be really concerned about as the election goes on,” he said. The treasurer needs to “try to build a base among the females and try to close the gap as much as she can. … If Gina can move those numbers, that is really going to help her greatly in this election.”
Then there is Pell, the 32-year-old grandson of U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell and a political newcomer, who jumped into the primary just last month.
The conventional wisdom among Rhode Island political observers is that Pell will attract votes who would otherwise back Taveras, making it harder for the mayor to win the primary. Fleming said the new poll offers support for that theory, since Pell is attracting support from union members and young voters among whom Taveras otherwise does well.
Pell runs especially strong with voters who live in public-sector union households, with 19% of voters in that category supporting him; in fact, Pell stronger support among those voters than Raimondo, who is at 17%, though both numbers are well below the 35% backing Taveras.
“The question is, how much will Clay Pell take away from him?” Fleming said of Taveras. “If this is all Pell takes away from him and he does not draw anymore, Angel could still be OK by building up on undecided voters. … Taveras needs to get his base of support solid and hope Clay Pell does not get a message out there, especially with union people, to go over the other way.”
In addition to testing who would win if the primary election for governor were held today, the new poll also examined how Democratic primary voters feel about Taveras, Raimondo and Pell as individuals. Once again Taveras was the clear winner, though Raimondo is also popular and relatively well-known.
The survey finds 68% of primary voters have a favorable view of Taveras, compared with 55% who view Raimondo favorably and 37% who view Pell favorably. Raimondo has the highest unfavorable rating at 24%, but not by much: 21% of primary voters already view Pell unfavorably, while 20% view Taveras unfavorably.
Taveras is widely popular, with two-thirds or more of primary voters in every subgroup viewing him favorably at this point in the race. His highest ratings come from voters in union households, 74% of whom view him favorably. He also has a 70% favorable rating with self-identified Democrats, women, and voters ages 40 to 59.
Raimondo isn’t as popular as Taveras but is still viewed positively by a majority of voters in every subgroup except one: voters in union households, only 43% of whom view the treasurer favorably. She is also viewed more favorably by men (58%) than women (52%), one in four of whom don’t have an opinion about her. Her strongest favorable ratings come from voters ages 60 and older and independents.
While Pell’s unfavorable rating is at about the same level as Taveras’s and Raimondo’s, a much larger share of primary voters – 41% – say they don’t know enough about Pell to express an opinion about him at this point.
“If I’m Clay Pell that says to me I have a lot of room for growth,” Fleming said. “Forty-one percent of the people say they don’t know me; I can build a good, positive image of myself to the voters of Rhode Island. … That’s a plus for him in some ways at this early point.”
Pell’s popularity is highest among women (41% favorable) and self-identified Democrats (40% favorable). His biggest problems so far are with men (24% unfavorable) and independent voters (24% unfavorable).
The poll also tested Taveras and Raimondo in a slightly different way, asking voters to rate their job performance as mayor and treasurer, respectively. The question was asked because surveys sometimes show that politicians can be viewed favorably on a personal level even when voters aren’t satisfied with the job they’re doing.
On job approval Taveras again has an edge over Raimondo, though the gap between them there isn’t quite as wide as it is in their favorable ratings, which are higher for both.
The poll shows 58% of primary voters rate Taveras’s job performance as mayor “excellent” or “good,” compared with 50% who rate Raimondo’s job performance as treasurer that way. Twice as many voters – 13% – rate Raimondo’s job performance “poor” as say the same about Taveras (6%).