SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- A Bryant University poll released Thursday shows that 84 percent of Rhode Island voters trust the information Governor Gina M. Raimondo is providing about the coronavirus outbreak, compared to 35 percent who trust what President Donald Trump is telling them.
The poll also found that more than three-quarters of Rhode Island voters have taken some financial hit from the COVID-19 outbreak.
And it found a majority favor an expanded federal government role in basic health care, economic, and educational matters.
This spring marks the 10th anniversary of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership, and since no public celebration is possible in the pandemic, the institute decided to gauge public opinion on leadership during the health crisis. The telephone survey of 410 Rhode Island registered voters was conducted from April 15-18 by Fleming & Associates. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.
“The trust factor is so important in a crisis like this,” the institute’s director, Gary S. Sasse, said Thursday.
“What I found so amazing about these numbers is that the trust was across the board,” Sasse said.
According to the poll, 72 percent of Republicans have trust in the information they’re receiving from Raimondo, who is a Democrat.
“When you are dealing with a crisis, and certainly with a pandemic, people are not worried about whether leaders are Republican or Democrat,” Sasse said. “They are worried about the health of their families and getting the problem solved so they can get back to work. It’s very personal.”
The local results reflect a nationwide trust and confidence in governors of both parties, such as Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, and New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, he said.
Aside from the trust question, the poll found that 81 percent of Rhode Island voters think Raimondo is doing a good or excellent job of handling the coronavirus crisis, compared to 34 percent for Trump.
Sasse, who served as administration director for former Rhode Island Republican Governor Donald L. Carcieri, said Raimondo “is coming across as a strong leader. Every day she has a public availability and she is demonstrating strong leadership characteristics.”
By contrast, Trump “is sending a mixed message,” Sasse said. “You listen to his press conferences and the message is not consistent. He has been all over the place, he has been argumentative with the press, and he has been criticizing opponents.”
The president is not making effective use of what former President Theodore Roosevelt called “the bully pulpit,” Sasse said. And the poll numbers likely reflect Trump’s lack of preparation for the pandemic, he said.
But the poll shows that 80 percent of Republicans gave Trump a positive job rating, and 78 percent of Republicans said they have a great or good amount of trust in the information that the president in providing about the coronavirus.
While trust in elected leaders varies, the poll found that 86 percent of Rhode Island have a good or great amount of trust in the information being provided by public health officials, and that trust extends to groups of all different ages, incomes, and political parties.
Rhode Island has led the nation in its share of unemployment claims as a percentage of the civilian labor force, at 15.2 percent.
And the poll reflects that economic pain: 76 percent of Rhode Island voters said their finances have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus -- 16 percent “greatly,” 37 percent “moderately,” and 23 percent “a little.”
“What you are seeing is that over half are experiencing real economic distress,” Sasse said. “And the poor and the young feel particularly hurt financially by this.”
The poll found that 30 percent of residents who earn less than $25,000 a year have been greatly impacted. And 57 percent of voters under the age of 40 said their finances have been greatly or moderately impacted.
The poll asked voters if, compared to before the coronavirus crisis, they are more or less likely to believe the responsibilities of the federal government should be expanded in certain areas: 53 percent favored expanding the federal role in both health care and “income security,” and 62 favored expanding the federal role in “education technology.”
In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over,” Sasse noted.
But now, it appears that people are again realizing the importance of government and favor expanding the federal role in basic health and educational issues, he said.
“That is a sea change,” Sasse said. “That is a significant change to the paradigm of the last two decades, and it will have implications for the relationship between the government and the economy, and it could affect the 2020 elections.”
The poll found that 82 percent would be more likely to vote than they were before the coronavirus crisis.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org