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More grim poll news for U.S. Rep. Cicilline

February 27, 2012

Republican Brendan Doherty has pulled significantly ahead of Democratic incumbent David Cicilline in the race for the 1st District U.S. House, according to a public opinion survey released today by WPRI Channel 12.

Doherty, former state police superintendent, was at 49 percent, Cicilline at 34 percent and 16 percent of voters are undecided, according to the poll done by veteran Rhode Island pollster Joseph Fleming. In a May, 2011 WPRI survey, Doherty led Cicilline, 46 to 33 percent.

The new poll of 250 registered voters in the 1st District, which includes most of Providence and the communities on the east side of Narragansett Bay, carries an error margin of 6.2 percent. The poll was done of voters in the recently redrawn 1st District.

The poll is the second in a week to show Cicilline’s weak standing heading into the 2012 election cycle. A Brown University poll released last week showed Cicilline’s job approval rating at about 15 percent. The Channel 12 numbers put Cicilline at roughly 20 percent favorability. The Brown poll did not include a Doherty-Cicilline matchup.

The Channel 12 survey shows Doherty will a huge lead among male voters, at 55 percent to 30 percent. Cicilline does better among females, where Doherty leads 44 to 37 percent with the rest undecided.

As well as a gender gap, the poll shows a very large generational split. Among voters aged 60 or better, Doherty leads, 53 to 27 percent. Cicilline holds a comfortable bulge among younger voters, besting Doherty 55 to 34 percent among voters aged 18 to 39. The hurdle for Cicilline is that older voters generally have a higher turnout rate than younger voters.

Cicilline has a lead with Democrats, 54 percent to 40 percent, but Doherty has pulled away among independents, or voters called unaffiliated in the argot of Rhode Island politics. Doherty leads among independents, 54 to 25 percent.

Doherty also leads among union members, 56 to 27 percent.

Channel 12 also tested Doherty against Democrat Anthony Gemma, who lost the 2010 primary to Cicilline. Gemma has not announced a candidacy so far this year, but has hinted that he may run. Doherty defeats Gemma with all age groups and has a 41to 28 percent lead over Gemma among all voters. Twenty-nine percent are undecided.

Cicilline is obviously being hamstrung by the Providence fiscal mess and the perception that he was not candid about the city’s finances when he was Providence mayor in 2010 and ran for Congress. That issue isn’t going away; Providence is still working its way out of the deficits that have dominated the year-old administration of Mayor Angel Taveras.

Such issues as pensions, property tax increases for home and car owners and paying for health care for city retirees have dominated news coverage since Taveras took over last year.

Cicilline is also a freshman House member in the minority party and is in no position to bring home significant federal programs or money to Rhode Island. And every national poll shows that Congress is held in very low esteem by U.S. voters, with favorability numbers hovering in single digits.

There is a long way to go in this campaign, but one has to wonder if a stronger Democratic candidate than Gemma emerges as a Cicilline primary challenger. A primary joust against Cicilline would likely take $1 million or more in campaign money. Both Cicilline and Doherty are well-financed so far, according to reports filed with the Federal election Commission.

Cicilline’s best argument against Doherty is likely this one: Why would Rhode Island voters in a presidential year want to send another Republican to Washington to give House Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, more support for a sharply conservative agenda more suited to red state political stances?

The new boundaries have created a 1st District that supported Barack Obama with 66 percent in the 2008 presidential election, which should help Cicilline.

But before he attacks Doherty in this manner, Cicilline must rebuild his own image. It is never easy to attack an opponent from a position of weakness. At this point, Cicilline has serious trouble with major blocs of 1st District voters. He is viewed negatively by the elderly (60 and over), Democrats, Independents and women voters.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2012 1:30 pm

    . Good job, Scott. Beats the foolishness written by Randal Edgar in the Journal by a million miles. You know the difference between the 250 registered voters in the district and the statewide numbers of the Brown poll and made no attempt to do the impossible –compare them. I don’t doubt the results, but wish WPRI had sprung for a larger sample. Still kudos to you, Joe Fleming, and Channel 12.

  2. February 28, 2012 1:42 pm

    In fairness, I should not that both Brown and Joe gave performance numbers for statewide voters so they can be compared (maybe and maybe not) since we hve no way of knowing what Brown’s sample looked like. In any event, who cares what voters think about a congressman’s job performance when they don’t vote in the district.

  3. Jim permalink
    February 29, 2012 8:04 am

    The Democrats are in a real pickle here. The progressives will stick with Ciccilline because he is gay and they are not going to turn on a gay Congressman. They simply cannot do it. It will make something inside them feel “icky” or homophobic; silly as this sounds, it true. Segal could make a run but has no way to raise dough amongst progressives. Gemma is a joke; he doesn’t know who the hell he is. Doherty will win this race. Finally, RI might have a chance at restoring some credibility. WIth progressive socialists like Sheldon,a hack Senator like Reed who suck up special interest money like a hog– Reed ranks 10th among all 535 members of the House and Senate in his $78,250 fundraising total since 1989 from the campaign arms of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, their employees and family of employees. He just loves SPECIAL INTEREST MONEY and so does Dimwit Whitehouse. Cicciline has does nothing except bring the reality of bankruptcy upon Providence. Gotta hand to cicciline though, the man does have superb lying skills. All Brendan D. has to say in a debate is this: I’m not slick, I can’t talk well but I am not a crook and a liar. Game over. Tough tooties, Eddie Pacheco…


  1. U.S. Congressional District 1 Up For Grabs
  2. Gemma: “David Cicilline cannot win” « On Politics
  3. Taveras + Raimondo: a study in contrasts on the Cicilline hot potato « On Politics
  4. Cicilline uses taxpayer dollars to chat with potential voters « On Politics
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