Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has a 14-point lead over her closest rival, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, while U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has a 24-point advantage over Republican challenger Robert Flanders, according to a new poll done for Rhode Island Public Radio, The Providence Journal and ABC6.
When asked who they would support if the election was held today, respondents gave Democrat Raimondo 48 percent of the support, compared with 34 percent for Fung, 5 percent for independent Joe Trillo, and 1 percent each for Moderate Party candidate William Gilbert, Anne Armstrong of the Compassion Party, and independent Luis-Daniel Munoz. Eleven percent didn't know or were undecided.
The results are among the findings of a poll conducted between September 27 and October 6 by the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire. The results, which have a 4.4 percentage point margin of error, came from interviews with 561 Rhode Islanders, including 503 likely general election voters. (More results from the poll will be released Thursday evening and Sunday morning.)
When asked about preferences in the U.S. Senate race, 57 percent of respondents said they would vote for Whitehouse, a Democrat seeking his third term, compared with 33 percent for Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice. Nine percent chose "other" or were undecided.
With four weeks until Rhode Island's November 6 election, the findings show Raimondo widening her lead over Fung. A WPRI-Roger Williams University poll released September 20 showed her with a 7 point advantage.
Fung campaign spokesman Andrew Augustus rejected the latest finding.
"The Fung Campaign flat out rejects the results of this survey," he said. "Our internal polling has this race within the margin, and any poll that takes 10 days to get a sample raises serious questions about its veracity. The fact of the matter is, the people of Rhode Island are fed up with the direction of our state and Governor Raimondo's leadership. They are demanding change every day and our survey data reflects that. Allan looks forward to seeing everyone at the Rally for Change on Saturday where real Rhode Islanders will come share in the movement we are creating."
Raimondo campaign spokesman Michael Raia took the new poll findings in stride.
"Polls go up," he said. "Polls go down. The governor and her team are focused on doing everything we can to continue bringing the change that Rhode Islanders need and to earn the support of Rhode Islanders. Under Governor Raimondo’s leadership, Rhode Island employers have created more than 15,000 new jobs, unemployment is the lowest it’s been in nearly 20 years, our economy is the 17th best in America, and we led the nation last year in wage growth. Allan Fung and Joe Trillo have promised to undo that progress and send Rhode Island backwards."
In 2014, Raimondo won the race for governor with 40.7 percent of the vote, 4.5 points ahead of Fung.
Other key findings:
-- Seventy-seven percent of of respondents say they support the November ballot question that would steer $250 million to school repairs and construction. Twelve percent are opposed, and 11 percent say they don't know or are undecided.
-- Fifty-one percent of registered voters say the state is on the right track, 42 percent say things are seriously off track, and 7 percent didn't know or were unsure.
-- Just 37 percent of respondents think the country is headed in the right direction, while 58 percent believe the country is on the wrong track. But 75 percent of Republicans think the country is going in the right direction.
Although the UNH poll finds that Rhode Islanders have sharply divided views about Raimondo and Fung, pollster Andrew E. Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said that support for Democrats, combined with the local unpopularity of President Donald Trump, is giving Raimondo a lift.
"You combine those two things, a Democratic state with Republicans who are not as motivated as Democrats this election cycle, you come up with a race in which the Demcorat ought to win even if she's not particularly popular among people in the state," Smith said.
At the same time, Smith said, "A significant number of people that will show up at the polls haven't been paying much attention to this race at all."
The poll finds that 48 percent of respondents approve of Raimondo's job performance of governor. Forty-six percent have a favorable opinion about Raimondo, and 43 percent an unfavorable opinion. Fung faces a similar split, with 40 percent of respondents expressing a favorable view of him, and 41 percent an unfavorable view.
A related finding adds fuel to the argument of Fung supporters that Trillo is draining voters. Supporters of Trillo, Gilbert, Armstrong and Munoz were asked who they would support if their preferred candidate was not in the race. The largest group -- 53 percent -- chose Fung.
While the confirmation fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has energized Republicans in some parts of the U.S., pollster Smith said an issue like that can take time to resonate with voters.
The poll finds that 55 percent of respondents have a favorable view of Whitehouse, and 35 percent unfavorable. The poll found that Flanders is relatively unknown in Rhode Island. Thirty-one percent of likely voters have a favorable view of the judge, although a larger number (38 percent) said they didn't know enough to say.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat who faces a challenge for his state rep seat from Republican Steve Frias, has a 24 percent approval rating, compared with a 40 percent disapproval rating. (Legislative leaders in Rhode Island have often faced low ratings in statewide polls, reflecting broader attitudes about the General Assembly.)
Pollsters at UNH found high interest in Rhode Island's 2018 election.
"Three-quarters of Rhode Island voters say they are extremely or very interested in the 2018 general election, four in five say that they often or sometmes discuss the election with their friends and family, and nine in ten say they will definitely vote or will vote unless there is an emergency," according to an executive summary of the poll. "Republicans and Democrats report the same level of interest in the upcoming electon and are equally likely to say they will definitely vote, but Republicans are slightly more likely to say they often talk about the election."
The UNH poll also measured voters who are leaning in a particular direction. When leaners are included in the gubernatorial race, Raimondo leads Fung, 49 percent to 36 percent, with Trillo getting 6 percent. With leaners in the Senate race, Whitehouse leads Flanders, 58 percent to 35 percent.
This post has been updated.