With September coming to a close today, Rhode Island’s polling drought has definitely come to an end. This month saw the release of three new surveys gauging the state of the gubernatorial race, with one each from Rasmussen (taken Sept. 16), WJAR/Quest Research (Sept. 15-17) [pdf] and WPRI pollster Joe Fleming (Sept. 22-26).
Of the three, the most controversial proved to be the WJAR/Quest poll done by retired RIC professor Victor Profughi, which gave Democrat Frank Caprio a huge 12-point lead over independent Lincoln Chafee. By contrast, the two men were separated by just three points in both Rasmussen’s and our poll – well within the margin of error. (In fact, the Rasmussen and WPRI polls both had the two at 33%-30%, with Chafee ahead in theirs and Caprio on top in ours.)
Here’s a comparison of how Caprio, Chafee and Republican John Robitaille fared in the three polls, along with the percentage of undecided voters:
As Profughi pointed out to me in an e-mail, all three polls tell the same story about Frank Caprio’s support being in the 30%-35% range. But there is a nine-point spread between Profughi’s and Rasmussen’s results for Chafee, 10 points for Robitaille, and a whopping 14 points for the share of voters undecided.
Our WPRI poll by Joe Fleming is much closer to Rasmussen’s results, and campaign aides told us it largely matched their internal surveys. One notable difference in the samples: Profughi’s was only 12% Republicans, compared with 17% in ours, and 50% independents, versus 39% in ours. (All this is a reminder of why the way a poll is conducted makes such a difference.)
In retrospect, Profughi told me he should have pushed harder to see if self-identified undecided voters were actually leaning toward one candidate or another. “[W]e didn’t do nearly enough to break those who told us they were undecided first time out,” he said.
Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor called the results “highly suspect” in light of the Rasmussen survey, and pointed out that a poll Profughi did shortly before the 2006 Republican U.S. Senate primary gave Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey a huge 51%-34% lead over Chafee. Two weeks later, Chafee defeated Laffey 54%-46%. (Primary electorates are notoriously hard to poll, and Profughi himself called the Laffey-Chafee survey “an embarrassment” and “a whopper.”)
Trainor also pointed to Profughi’s prediction earlier this month about the Democratic primary for mayor of Providence: “I still think Taveras or Lombardi will be the winner, but l’m not as sure who is ahead of whom.” Taveras beat Lombardi 49%-29%. (“I never said Lombardi would win the Providence primary,” Profughi later wrote on Projo.com.)
To his credit, Profughi has been willing to engage with the criticism on WPRO, Projo.com and Rhode Island’s Future. He said he polled 496 “likely voters” (as opposed to just registered voters) by telephone, selected randomly from official voter lists and screened by asking whether they planned to vote in November.
Polls can have a big impact on political races, especially when they go against the conventional wisdom. But after sifting through this month’s polling data, my take is the same as Joe Fleming’s – this contest is still a tight race between Caprio and Chafee, each with around 30%-35% support, just as it has been for months.
Rasmussen has taken seven polls since February, and graphing the results shows just how little has changed over the last nine months (and how off-trend the 23% support for Chafee found by Profughi was):
Here at WPRI, we’re planning to do another poll closer to Election Day, and I assume Rasmussen will continue to track the race. I’m not sure what others will do. But many questions remain with less than five weeks to go: Who are those undecided voters, and what are they waiting to hear? What issues and messages will resonate in these final weeks? Has either Chafee or Caprio maxed out his support? Stay tuned.