Poll: 61% back RI pension law; Chafee, Cicilline approval in 20s

The new pension law is popular among Rhode Islanders – but the glow of its passage only seems to have benefited Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

A new Brown University poll released Thursday morning found 60% of Rhode Island voters support the pension overhaul signed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee last month and only 28% oppose it, with 90% calling it important to the state’s economic future. A majority of Republicans (64%), independents (64%) and Democrats (58%) all support the new law.

But the legislation did nothing for Chafee’s approval rating, which dipped to 27% this month from 32% in March. His support is highest among Democrats, at 39%, and lower among independents (22%) and Republicans (15%).

By contrast, Raimondo’s approval rating jumped from 40% to 52% over the same period, but her support is weakest among members of her own Democratic Party (38%) compared with 61% among Republicans and 60% among independents. She ties Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, also at 52% approval, as the state’s most popular politician.

The news is grim for Congressman David Cicilline. With less than a year to go before he faces reelection, Cicilline’s approval rating is just 23% in the 1st Congressional District. The redistricting commission will hold a hearing tonight on a new map that would redraw the district to make it safer for Cicilline. A vote is set for Monday.

As for the rest of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who also faces voters next year, has a weak approval rating of 34%. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is at 46% and Congressman Jim Langevin is at 42% statewide.

President Obama’s approval rating in Rhode Island is unchanged from March at 44%. The share of Rhode Islanders who think the state is “on the wrong track” rose slightly, to 63% in December from 60% in March. Other approval ratings: Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (35%), Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts (33%), Secretary of State Ralph Mollis (26%), House Speaker Gordon Fox (26%) and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (24%).

Cicilline and Paiva Weed are tied as the least popular politicians in Rhode Island, with each Democrat earning a statewide approval rating of 24%, according to the Brown poll.

Notably, 59% of voters think “the state is responsible for developing a uniform plan to fix the many independent municipal pension plans,” an issue that Raimondo and Taveras clashed over repeatedly this fall.

The poll also found 77% of voters prefer the term “Christmas tree” to “holiday tree,” a hotly debated formulation backed by Chafee that got the support of only 11%. The vast majority of those surveyed (85%) approve of the new state law that will require Rhode Islanders to show a photo ID when they vote in an election.

The telephone survey of 464 registered voters in Rhode Island was conducted Dec. 2 to 9 by Brown’s A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points, according to Brown.

Note that the sample was heavily weighted toward the 1st Congressional District, according to Brown pollster Marion Orr, which may impact the statewide approval ratings. Full results here.

Update: It’s striking that Brown’s 60% approval figure for the actual pension law is quite close to the 63% of voters who said they wanted “a complete overhaul” of the pension system in the September poll commissioned by EngageRI, though it’s below the 73% that supported a description of the bill’s contents.

Update #2: Governor Chafee tells me in an interview he’s concerned about his anemic approval ratings: “I’ve never seen, in my long career, those kinds of disapproval numbers.”

(photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

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