Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Taubman Center

Clinton, Trump lead in Rhode Island, but many voters undecided

April 24, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new public opinion survey by Brown University’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy finds that among likely voters in Tuesday’s presidential election primaries, Hillary Clinton maintains a lead over Bernie Sanders while Donald Trump leads John Kasich and Ted Cruz.

The poll surveyed a random sample of 600 registered Rhode Island voters who are likely to vote in the presidential primaries. It was conducted April 19 to 21 and has an overall margin of error of 4 percent.

The Taubman Center poll also asked voters to rate Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s leadership, finding that while respondents were split almost evenly in judging her performance as excellent/good, fair or poor, 54 percent of Rhode Islanders feel the state is going in the wrong direction. Polling included questions on four policy issues affecting the state, finding that a majority supports the regulation and taxation (i.e. legalization) of recreational marijuana.

Clinton and Trump lead, but one in six voters remain undecided

In the Democratic primary race, Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 43 to 34 percent with 16 percent undecided. Sanders leads among voters under the age of 45, with 48 percent favoring him to Clinton’s 34 percent. Clinton claims 52 percent of voters age 65 and older, with 23 percent for Sanders. Women strongly favor Clinton, at 47 percent versus 30 percent for Sanders. Among men, Clinton received 39 percent of the likely vote to Sanders’ 38 percent. Clinton’s strongest support lies with African American voters, at 63 percent, to 13 percent for Sanders. A majority of Latino voters favor Clinton, 55 percent to 36 percent for Sanders. Among white voters, Clinton’s lead is less decisive: 42 percent to Sanders’ 35 percent.

Donald Trump leads in the Republican primary race with 38 percent of likely voters, followed by John Kasich with 25 percent, Ted Cruz at 14 percent and 17 percent undecided. Trump and Kasich are statistically tied among women at around 30 percent, but Trump holds a strong lead among men, 45 percent, compared to 19 percent for Kasich and 18 percent for Cruz. Voters age 65 and older strongly support Trump, at 47 percent, with 24 percent for Kasich and 12 percent for Cruz. Among Republican primary voters 44 and younger, the race is a tossup, almost equally split among the three candidates and the 26 percent who are still undecided.

The undecided and the unaffiliated

One striking feature of both primary races is that a large number of undecided voters are among those likely to vote: 17 percent of Republicans and 16 percent of Democrats were not sure which candidate they will vote for on Tuesday.Clinton and Trump each hold a slim majority among affiliated voters.

Among unaffiliated voters planning to vote in the Democratic primary, 42 percent favored Sanders, 22 percent favored Clinton and 24 percent are undecided. Among unaffiliated voters planning to vote in the Republican primary, Kasich and Trump tie at 31 percent, with 13 percent picking Cruz and 18 percent undecided.

Support for charter schools, tourism money and marijuana legalization not for toll tax on trucks

Likelyvoters were asked about policy issues currently in the news. Asked whether they support or oppose the expansion of charter schools in Rhode Island, a strong majority, 59 percent, support the expansion, while just 21 percent oppose. Support for the expansion was consistent among all demographic groups, with the strongest support coming from non-white groups.

Despite the recent controversy over a state tourism campaign, a strong majority of voters, 62 percent, support spending state funds to promote tourism. When asked whether the state should spend more or less, voters were split, with 35 percent saying the state should spend more, 43 percent saying less should be spent, and 22 percent answering “don’t know.”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo recently signed into a law a bill to collect a toll tax from large trucks that pass through the state. Asked whether they support his law, 53 percent of voters said they oppose it, and 38 percent said they favor the tax.

A strong majority of Rhode Island voters, 67 percent, support the state’s current law allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. A majority, 55 percent, support passing a law to regulate and tax the use of marijuana for recreational use, similarly to how alcohol is taxed and regulated. Voters 44 and younger strongly supported this change, at 72 percent, with voters 65 and older split — 43 percent approve and 42 oppose.

Poll respondents were asked whether they have ever tried marijuana. Forty-one percent said yes, with 34 percent of female respondents and 49 percent of male respondents saying they had tried marijuana at least once. Just 3 percent of respondents refused to answer the question. Of those who have tried marijuana, 12 percent said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days, with 15 percent saying they have used within the past year.

Voters were also asked if things are going in the right or wrong direction in Rhode Island. Only a third of respondents feel the state is on the right track, with a majority, 54 percent, reporting they feel the state is on the wrong track. When asked whether they approve of the job Raimondo is doing as governor, 31 percent of voters said good or excellent, 30 percent judged her performance as fair and 33 percent assessed her performance as poor.

Without an oversample of voters in Providence, the Taubman Center decided to hold a question about approval of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s performance for a Providence-based poll in the coming months.

Questions and answers for poll conducted April 19 to 21, 2016

Results of the poll are based on a telephone survey of a random sample of 600 registered, likely voters in Rhode Island. The sample included likely voters who identified as Democrat (320), Republican (99) and Unaffiliated (181). Likely voters were defined as anyone who voted in November 2014, September 2014, April 2012, or registered since November 2014. The poll had a overall margin of error of 4 percent. The sample reporting that they would vote in the Democratic primary was 436 with a margin of error of 4.6 percent. The sample reporting that they would vote in the Republican primary was 164 with a margin of error of 7 percent. Note that totals may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

Researchers from the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy’s John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory designed the survey instrument and conducted the analysis. The Taubman Center contracted National Telecommunications Services Inc. to conduct interviews. Interviews were conducted on landlines (65 percent) and cell phones (35 percent) from April 19 to 21, 2016.

The gender distribution of voters in the sample was 47 percent male and 52 percent female. The age distribution was 24 percent ages 18-44; 39 percent ages 45-64; 38 percent ages 65 and older. Party affiliation was 53 percent Democrats, 17 percent Republicans and 30 percent with no party affiliation.

(1.) Just in general, how do you think things are going in Rhode Island — are things moving in the right direction, or are things on the wrong track?
Right direction 33%, Wrong direction
54%, Don’t know 13%

(2.) If the Democratic primary election were today, for whom would you vote?
Hillary Clinton
40% (with 4% leaning), Bernie Sanders 32% (with 2% leaning), Undecided 16%,Other 7%

(3.) If the Republican primary election were today, for whom would you vote?
Donald Trump
36% (with 1% leaning), Ted Cruz 13% (with 2% leaning), John Kasich 21% (with5% leaning), Undecided 17%, Other 6%

(4.) How would you rate the job that Gina Raimondo is doing as governor?
Excellent 7%, Good
24%, Fair 30%, Poor 33%, Don’t know 6%, Refuse 1% 

Now, I would like to ask you about a couple of policy issues facing the state of Rhode Island. For each, please tell me if you support or oppose the policy measure, and how strongly you feel about this.

(5.) Do you support or oppose the expansion of charter schools in Rhode Island?
Support 21%, Support 38%, Neutral 12%, Oppose 16%, Strongly oppose 6%,Refuse/Don’t know 7% 

(6.) Do you support or oppose a toll tax on large trucks in Rhode Island to improve public infrastructure like roads and bridges?
Strongly Support 15%, Support 24%, Neutral
6%, Oppose 33%, Strongly oppose 21%, Refuse/Don’t know 3% 

(7.) Do you support or oppose state spending to promote tourism?
Strongly Support 18%,
Support 44%, Neutral 8%, Oppose 21%, Strongly oppose 6%, Refuse/Don’t know 2% 

(8.) As a follow up to this question, do you believe the state should be spending more or less to promote tourism?
More 35%, Less 43%, Don’t know 22%, Refuse 0%

(9.) The use of medical marijuana is currently legal in the state of Rhode Island. Do you support or oppose this policy?
Strongly Support 22%, Support 45%, Neutral 6%, Oppose 16%, Strongly oppose 10%, Refuse/Don’t know 2%

(10.) Thinking beyond medical marijuana, do you support or oppose changing the law in Rhode Island to regulate and tax the use of marijuana, similarly to alcohol?
Strongly support
21%, Support 34%, Neutral 4%, Oppose 24%, Strongly oppose 12%, Refuse/Don’t know5% 

(11.) As a follow up to the previous question, have you ever tried marijuana?
Yes 41%, No
55%, Don’t know 1%, Refuse 3% 

(12.) If yes, how long has it been since you last used marijuana? (N = 348)
Past 30 days 12%, Between 30 days and 12 months 4%, More than 12 months ago 54%, Don’t know 16%,
Refuse 15%


James Morone