Poll: Clinton leads Trump in RI; Johnson at 15%

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigning in West Virginia. (AP photos)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump in the battle to win Rhode Island’s four presidential electoral votes, but Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson is attracting double-digit support, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The online survey of 625 Rhode Island registered voters shows Clinton at 50% and Trump at 40% in a two-way race, with 10% undecided. When third-party candidates are included, Clinton falls to 41% and Trump drops to 33% as Johnson receives 15% and Green nominee Jill Stein takes 7%.

The results were part of a 50-state presidential poll conducted online by The Washington Post and SurveyMonkey from Aug. 9 to Sept. 1, an unusually long length of time for an opinion survey. In addition, the poll does not carry a margin of error because it is not a typical random sample of voters but rather a survey of “respondents who completed separate, user-generated polls using SurveyMonkey’s platform during this period,” the two organizations said.

Clinton’s lead in Rhode Island is little surprise – the Democratic nominee for president has won Rhode Island in every election since 1976 except one, in 1984, when Republican Ronald Reagan took the state in his re-election landslide. Since 1928, Rhode Island has only backed three Republicans for president: Reagan, Richard Nixon in 1972, and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.

Even at 50%, Clinton’s support in the new poll is far below the share of the vote Barack Obama received in Rhode Island in 2012 and 2008, when the Democratic president won 63% both times. However, Obama’s support was lower in WPRI 12/Providence Journal polls prior to the 2012 election, ranging from 54% to 57%.

Matt McDermott, a Warwick native who is now a Democratic political strategist at Whitman Insight Strategies in New York and an expert on polling, told WPRI.com he sees “some value in the findings” despite its non-traditional sample. “But given methodological concerns, particularly the fact that the survey fielded over a full month, it’s not a great tool for getting a true ‘snapshot’ of the race,” he said.

One silver lining for Trump’s Rhode Island supporters in the poll results: the Ocean State is one of only two where the GOP nominee is performing better than his predecessor Mitt Romney, who received 35% in 2012, in a two-way race. (The other is North Dakota.)

McDermott dismissed the possibility of Trump winning Rhode Island, but said the survey demonstrates once again he has appeal in the Ocean State, which in its April presidential primary delivered the businessman what at the time was his biggest landslide yet.

“Given Trump’s strength with non-college white voters, I think it’s reasonable to expect Trump might perform better in the state than Romney or [John] McCain were able to – but his massive deficits among non-white voters and historically abysmal vote among college educated white voters leaves him unable to make up too much ground versus other recent elections,” he said.

Rhode Island is one of 15 states in the Post/SurveyMonkey survey where Johnson, the Libertarian, hit at least 15% with voters; four years ago he received just 1% in Rhode Island when he was on the ballot. McDermott suggested many of those who chose Johnson or Stein in the poll could be disillusioned Bernie Sanders supporters who will wind up backing Clinton come November.

Yet a strong showing by a third-party candidate would hardly be unprecedented in Rhode Island: Ross Perot received 23% in 1992 and 11% in 1996 and Ralph Nader received 6% in 2000. Two years ago, the late Robert Healey received 21% in the race for governor as the Moderate Party standard-bearer.

Clinton holds a healthier lead in Massachusetts in the Post/SurveyMonkey survey, receiving 56% in a two-way race and 48% in a four-way contest, versus 33% and 29% for Trump, respectively.

No traditional polls of Rhode Island voters have been released so far in the presidential race.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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