Gallup: Democrats’ dominance drops by half in Rhode Island

The Democratic Party’s edge among Rhode Island voters has plunged over the past two years, a WPRI.com analysis of Gallup polling data shows.

The Democratic advantage over the Republican Party in Rhode Island slid from 37 percentage points in 2008 to 16 points this year, according to Gallup. The Ocean State has gone from being the most Democratic state in the country in 2008 to the 7th-most Democratic now.

Gallup calculates a state’s partisan preference based on the difference between the percentage of state residents who identify as or lean Democratic and the percentage who identify as or lean Republican. The 12.2-point drop for Democrats in Rhode Island from 2008 to 2010 was the most in the nation, the polling firm said.

“There is a very distinct – and surprising – trend line in these numbers,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at The Cook Political Report in Washington and a native Rhode Islander. “While Rhode Island certainly remains one of the most Democratic states in the country, there is a clear erosion in support for Democrats.”

A decline in the Democratic Party’s fortunes locally hasn’t necessarily translated into a surge of support for the GOP, however. A whopping 60% of Rhode Islanders identified as independents in Gallup’s polling during the first half of this year, the most in any state. That’s up from 53% in 2008.

“Many states with high proportions of independents are dominated by one party electorally,” Gallup said – meaning many of Rhode Island’s self-identified independents are still likely to vote for a Democrat when they go to the polls.

It’s unclear why there’s been such a marked decline in how many Rhode Islanders side with the Democrats. For one thing, 2008 was a banner year for Democrats, which may have inflated the party’s numbers locally. The unemployment rate has been above 10% in Rhode Island every month since March 2009, as well.

“It could be because voters are simply frustrated with a lack of jobs and the struggling economy, but President Obama may be part of the problem here as well,” Duffy said. Obama’s approval rating was down to 44% in a March poll by Brown University.

“No scandal-free Democratic president should have an approval rating under 50% in the 7th-most Democratic state in the nation,” Duffy said.

Rhode Island isn’t the only blue state where Democrats lost ground. The party’s advantage in Massachusetts fell from 34 points in 2008 to 20 points this year, and its advantage in Hawaii declined from 34 points to 24.

Related: Is Rhode Island really a blue state? Weighing the evidence (July 14)

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