Poll: 60% back Raimondo’s free tuition plan

Majority want car tax reduced, but more support for partial cut than full repeal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Three in five Rhode Island voters support Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to offer two years of free tuition at the state’s public colleges, according to a newly released poll.

The survey of 402 Rhode Island registered voters found 60% favor Raimondo’s plan, while 30% oppose it and 10% are unsure about it. The governor has been campaigning for the measure for months, but it faces some resistance in the legislature, notably from Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

However, an even larger share of voters supported two suggested changes to Raimondo’s proposal: 62% said they agreed with limiting the offer of free tuition based on a family’s ability to pay, while 81% agreed with requiring students to maintain certain grade point average in high school to qualify.

The poll also showed that for the first time in years, more Rhode Islanders think the state is moving in the right direction than in the wrong direction, with 42% of voters saying it’s headed in the right direction, 36% saying it’s headed in the wrong direction, and 16% unsure.

The survey was conducted March 25 to 29 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland on behalf of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9%. (Gary Sasse, the institute’s director, initially said the organization would not release the poll’s methodology, but then agreed to do so.)

Joe Fleming, who has been conducting polls for the Hassenfeld Institute since 2015, directed questions about the new survey to Sasse. (Fleming also conducts polls and serves as a political analyst for Eyewitness News.)

The Hassenfeld poll asked additional questions about the other big debate at the State House – repealing the municipal car tax, which Mattiello has promised to do after making it a key plank of his re-election campaign last fall. Raimondo has countered with a plan to reduce the car tax by 30% but not eliminate it entirely.

Although both ideas won majority support in the survey, it found significantly more voters favor Raimondo’s plan (72%) than Mattiello’s plan (52%). Asked about which of four state taxes should be reduced first, a plurality chose the income tax (36%), followed by a tied result for the car tax and the sales tax (24% each) and then the business tax (12%).

In addition, the poll showed 75% of voters think the governor should have line-item veto power over the state budget; 78% favor raising Rhode Island’s minimum wage from $9.60 to $10.50 an hour, with a 44% plurality suggesting it will have a positive impact on the availability of jobs; and 60% say candidates for statewide offices should be required to receive at least 50% of the vote to win.

Rhode Island’s last two governors, Raimondo and Lincoln Chafee, both won office with significantly less than majority support.

The release of the new Hassenfeld poll comes one day after Morning Consult, a Washington-based website, released a survey showing an uptick in Raimondo’s job approval. However, Morning Consult uses an unusual methodology for its polls, conducting them online over multiple months.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram