Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are the preferred presidential candidates of likely Rhode Island voters, according to a newly released poll by Brown University's Taubman Center For American Politics & Policy.
Bernie Sanders topped Clinton by seven points, 48 percent to 41 percent, in an initial poll by Brown that was conducted February 17-20 -- a striking finding considering how Clinton beat Barack Obama by 18 points in Rhode Island's 2008 primary.
But Clinton had a nine point lead over Sanders, 49 percent to 40 percent, in a poll conducted February 22-23, after the Democratic caucus in Nevada and the Republican primary.
Brown professor James Morone attributes the swing on the Democratic side to a momentum switch. "We think this really reflects the news cycle coverage .... with great enthusiasm toward Sanders after his massive win in New Hampshire and then a kind of ‘Comeback Kid’ sort of narrative after the Nevada election," he said.
Trump widened his lead in the GOP field in the second poll, increasing his support from 41 percent to 43 percent, keeping an 18-point lead over Marco Rubio.
Rubio received 25 percent (14 percent in the first poll); John Kasich 14 percent (12 percent in the first poll); Ted Cruz 10 percent (8 percent in the first poll); and Ben Carson 3 percent (4 percent in the first poll). Brown said five percent of likely Republican voters remain undecided (13 percent were undecided in the first poll). Jeb Bush, who suspended his campaign on February 20, 2016, received 7 percent in the first poll, and was not included in the second poll.
In other findings, 50 percent of Rhode Islanders in both polls said the state is headed in the wrong direction.
Brown said both polls surveyed 600 registered voters likely to participate in Rhode Island's April 26 presidential primary. Each poll had an overall margin of error of 4 percentage points.
According to Brown's report on the poll, even after surrendering his lead to Clinton, "Sanders continued to receive higher favorability scores. In the second poll, Sanders had the edge with a 56/37 percent favorable/unfavorable rating while Clinton received a 49/46 percent favorable/unfavorable rating. In the first poll, Sanders received a 59/32 percent favorable/unfavorable rating and Clinton a 47/49 percent favorable/unfavorable rating."
Clinton bolstered her support among African-Americans, with a 24 point gain, from the first poll to the second, while Sanders dropped 10 points. Sanders kept a strong lead in voters under 30, although Clinton gained 17 points in that age group from the first poll to the second.
This post has been updated.