WPRI 12/Journal Poll: Raimondo takes the lead

Three Democrats locked in tight race for gubernatorial nomination

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has overtaken Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in the Democratic primary for governor and political newcomer Clay Pell is closing in on him from behind, an exclusive WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll released Wednesday shows.

The new survey of 503 likely Rhode Island Democratic primary voters shows Raimondo in the lead at 32%, Taveras slipping to second place at 27% and Pell close behind him at 26%. The number of voters who are undecided has fallen to 13% ahead of the Sept. 9 primary. A fourth candidate, Todd Giroux, is at 1%.

In-Depth Interactive Poll Results: VIEW NOW »

Pell’s support has more than doubled since the previous WPRI 12/Journal survey in late May, when just 12% of voters were backing him, thanks to millions of dollars he’s spent on TV ads and campaign outreach. Raimondo has also spent a huge sum on ads and other campaigning, increasing her support from 29% in May and decreasing Taveras’s from 33%.

“The headline is there’s basically been a flip-flop in the lead for the governor’s race,” WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. “However, there’s still 13% undecided, which will be the determining factor in who wins the race because they’re so close.”

When primary voters were asked which candidate they think will actually win the primary, regardless of whom they support, 39% said Raimondo, 25% said Taveras, 13% said Pell and 21% said they aren’t sure. Just 36% of Pell supporters actually expect their own candidate to win the primary, compared with 74% for Raimondo supporters and 56% for Taveras supporters.

Fleming said it’s good news for Raimondo that the poll shows her taking a small lead, but it remains far from certain that she will be the winner come Sept. 9.

“She’s feeling that as long as these two keep fighting for the same votes, she can hold on and win,” he said. “But again, she’s only at 32% – that’s not enough votes to win the Democratic primary. You’re going to need 35% to 38% to win as long as Clay Pell and Angel Taveras keep fighting it out. I think it will be in the high 30s to get you over the top.”

Dive into the interactive results of the August WPRI 12/Journal Campaign 2014 Poll.
Dive in to the interactive results of the August WPRI 12/Journal Campaign 2014 Poll.

Fleming estimated voter turnout in the Democratic primary could be anywhere from 90,000 to 130,000. “At this point, based on this poll, the campaigns need to keep doing heavy media, getting their message out,” he said. “But now that we’re down to 21 days they’ve got to get their ground game in gear.”

The landline and cell-phone interview poll was conducted Monday, Aug. 11, through Thursday, Aug. 14, by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, Rhode Island. 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 1984.

Raimondo now leads the race with every subgroup of voters except those between the ages of 18 and 39 and those who live in union households. Pell is in third place with most subgroups, but he and Taveras are tied for first among union households and he is ahead of Taveras – though not Raimondo – among voters ages 60 and older.

Women, independents and older voters are all more likely to be among the 13% who remain undecided in the governor’s race. Raimondo has the strongest favorable rating among undecided voters at 57%, compared with the 48% favorable rating they give Taveras and the 29% they give Pell.

Another piece of good news for Raimondo in the poll is that her supporters are notably less inclined to abandon ship for another candidate.

The survey finds 57% of Raimondo voters say they will definitely vote for her in the Sept. 9 primary, up from 45% in May. That compares with 41% of both Pell and Taveras voters who are locked in. On the flip side, 41% of Taveras supporters say there’s a good chance they will change their minds and wind up voting for someone else on Sept. 9.

“She’s solidifying her support,” Fleming said. “The voters with her seem to be more solid at this point and less likely to move.”

A key reason for Raimondo’s uptick in the polls is the fact that she has closed the gap with Taveras when it comes to how voters view the two of them.

Back in May, 67% of Democratic primary voters had a favorable opinion of Taveras, while only 54% said the same about Raimondo. The new poll shows Taveras’s favorable rating among primary voters has softened to 63%, while Raimondo’s has climbed to 62%. Pell’s favorable rating has also increased, from 35% in May to 50% now.

Fleming noted that Pell’s unfavorable rating is basically unchanged since May, suggesting he has put behind him the odd story of his missing Prius that made headlines earlier in the year.

“I think the positive ads at this point he’s been running show another side of him,” Fleming said. “It’s cost him a lot of money to put the Prius issue behind him that kept dogging him early on, especially in our survey in May, but since then that hasn’t been an issue and he’s been spending a lot of money building a positive image of himself.”

For Taveras, Fleming said, the challenge over the next three weeks is how to simultaneously blunt Pell’s momentum, raise doubts about Raimondo and build up his own image with voters – all while sitting on considerably less campaign cash than the other two candidates.

“How does Angel Taveras go negative without voters turning on him and going to Clay Pell?” Fleming said. “He has to be very careful with that.”

Taveras gave an indication of his strategy going forward in a new TV ad released Tuesday that attacks Raimondo for her ties to the financial industry and Pell for his career history. He also sent a campaign email to supporters with the subject line “trouble” that pleaded with them for more donations.

“It’s crucial we keep getting our message out,” he wrote. “And we need the money in the bank by Friday to cut a check for our most important media buy yet! That makes this the biggest deadline I’ve ever faced. Getting our message out over the final two weeks is crucial to bringing home a victory. If we don’t, our grassroots effort could be in deep trouble.”

The three Democrats are scheduled to meet for a live televised debate at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Tuesday at 7 p.m. live on WPRI 12. The two Republican candidates for governor, Allan Fung and Ken Block, will debate at the same time and place the following Tuesday.

Following the release of the poll results Wednesday morning, the three gubernatorial campaigns all released statements sharing their views on the results.

Raimondo’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, said this:

This election is so important and it’s great to see the continued outpouring of support for Gina. Rhode Island is struggling with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and Gina’s plan to bring back good jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, is resonating. While Mayor Taveras continues to run a nasty smear campaign against Gina, voters aren’t buying it and now his campaign is flailing. Gina will be a governor who gets people back to work and grows our economy in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Taveras’s spokeswoman, Dawn Bergantino, said this:

After being outspent 2 to 1 by both our opponents, we are confident that in the last three weeks we will be able to let voters know of the clear choice in this election. Our Wall Street-backed treasurer has spent more than a month and close to a million dollars running attack ads trying to distract from her own record, but has not broken away from the pack.

Rhode Islanders know that Angel Taveras is the candidate who will stand up for working families and who has the experience to move our state forward. As we get closer to the primary and voters hear more about each of the candidates, who they stand for and what they have to offer we have no doubt they will support Angel for governor.

Pell’s campaign manager, Devin Driscoll, said this:

Our campaign has momentum moving into the last days of this race for one simple reason – we’ve got a real plan to get our state back on course, with new ideas and a fresh perspective to the long-standing challenges faced by Rhode Island.

Over the final three weeks, Team Pell is going to double down on what brought us to this point: a positive, campaign of ideas with a forward-looking plan to make Rhode Island ready for tomorrow.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

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